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The Dave Stryker Trio Swings A Log Church


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Once through pastoral Medford Village in Burlington County, NJ, you arrive at Medford Lakes, a community of period log cabins under towering pine trees just off Stokes, the main road. In this onetime lakeside resort, hand-hewn from local wood, beckons a big cabin called Cathedral of the Woods. Russell Quigliata, who managed Cecil Payne until the renowned baritone saxophonist died in 2007, runs a monthly jazz series in the cabin cathedral. Somehow, he lures first-rate talent here. For only $20- -$15 for seniors and students—you can hear a wicked band like the Dave Stryker Trio. Guitarist Stryker's quartet, with Stefon Harris on vibraphone, Jared Gold on Hammond B3 organ and McClenty Hunter on drums, had just released an exciting album of pop/rock arrangements called Eight Track. It's dedicated to the era of in-car tape decks and matching cassettes, freeing us from the repetitive playlists and endless commercials of top-40 radio stations. Now as a trio they were beginning a tour to promote the CD. With New Jersey native and much-recorded Gold on organ and Jason Tiemann from Kentucky on drums—Stryker hails from Nebraska—they played nine of the 10 tracks from the CD, a pair of blues, the 1934 standard "For All We Know" and the Beatles' "Can't Buy Me Love."

Musicians have been recording covers of pop songs forever. Arguably the earliest by a serious jazz artist was Ella Fitzgerald's cover of the same Lennon/McCartney song, "Can't Buy Me Love," both released in 1964. Other jazz musicians who have recorded pop covers here and there include, in this incomplete history, Joe Locke's magnificent remake of Joni Mitchell's "Blue," and Arthur Lipner's redo of Bill Withers' "Ain't No Sunshine." In 2008, jazz vibraphonist Bill Ware dedicated an entire album, Wonder Full, to Stevie Wonder, and last year The Jost Project released Can't Find My Way Home, all pop/rock remakes. Some great melodies can be mined from the '70s and Stryker's have struck gold. Stryker was featured in the June 2014 DownBeat magazine—he regularly pops up in reader and critic polls—and he's cut over 20 CDs as a leader. He gave Curtis Mayfield's "Pusherman," from the movie Superfly, the wah-wah treatment, taking it in and out of the '70s at will. The trio played "Aquarius" from Broadway's Hair, and Pink Floyd's "Money," like little rascals getting away with a prank. Stryker and Gold are a perfect pair, ricocheting off one another in perfect time, Tiemann the bridge and fine soloist as well. The trio has it all, high-speed on-and-off ramps easily maneuvered, great communication, pure inspired, creative fun(k).

Stryker also has his way with ballads—they bring out his inner angel. "Wichita Lineman" and "Wanna Make It With You" have never been rendered with such tenderness. Perhaps the deepest groove of the evening was The Association's "Never My Love." With a hymn-like intro by organist Gold and Tiemann all brushes, Stryker sat near the front of the stage, light glowing halo-like on his blond hair, transforming what could be called a light pop contender into a prizefighter, passionate and soulful. But make no mistake, the tunes are not expressing adolescent angst; these are the all-grown-up versions.

It's rare to see teenagers at jazz performances. At this event, amateur guitarist, mandolin player and trained violinist Tom Parker brought his daughter Laura and her friend Sarah Nemerov, both 16. The teenagers were hearing live jazz for the first time and loving it, even though they knew only a few of the tunes Stryker's trio played.

Another highlight: An audience member, Cheryl, got a birthday gift to remember. The trio played "Happy Birthday,," starting off slow and serious, then kicking it up several notches before sequeing an upbeat "Never Can Say Good-Bye," the Jackson Five tune. Quigliata also got his due on a pair of "Blues for Russell," an improvisation that begged to be recorded.

The Jazz and Blues Showcase is a team effort. Russell's wife Julie sets up coffee and desserts on a side table, where you are free to help yourself and mingle with the musicians between the two sets. Their upcoming seventh season runs from September to November 2014, then March to June 2015. Previous artists include tenor saxophonists Larry McKenna and Eric Alexander, trumpeter Joe Magnarelli, vibraphonist Tony Miceli and organist Akiko Tsuruga. Although the building is a Protestant church, it is all-embracing. There are no religious icons or pews. Seating is on standard fold-out chairs. The altar serves as a well-miked stage. Is it worth the trip? AMEN, friend.




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