Wednesday, September 7, 2016

A CD to warm up to Indy Jazz Fest by: Guitarist Stryker visits old pop hits in "Eight Track II"

Efforts to bring post-Great American Songbook repertoire into the working books of jazzmen have had mixed success ever since Herbie Hancock explicitly promoted "the new standard" more than 20 years ago. How well do songs of often simpler chord structure provide vehicles for improvisation? Can the catchiness that made them hits carry over to jazz interpretations?

Dave Stryker's second outing focused on old pop has just been released
Guitarist Dave Stryker, heading a compatible quartet featuring Steve Nelson on vibes, enlists his men in his second visit to material he nostalgically associates with eight-track tapes. On "Eight Track II" (Strikezone Records), he covers songs by Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder, the Isley Brothers, the Temptations, and others, assisted by Nelson, with Jared Gold, organ, and McClenty Hunter, drums.

The 59-year-old musician has established a regular presence in the heartland, thanks to his post as guest lecturer at Indiana University's Jacobs School of Music. He will be among the many guitarists featured in a day-long exhibition of jazz guitar Sept. 17 at IUPUI as part of the Indy Jazz Fest.

Attractively arranged in the front line, on "Eight Track II" you'll find vibes and guitar sometimes in unison, sometimes in counterpoint. Many listeners will know the originals better than I; I decided, perhaps rashly, not to find the songs online in order to assess the 11 tracks on their own as successful small-group jazz. Part of my justification: I don't always bother to find original versions of Great American Songbook tunes either when a jazz group records them.

The quartet opens in a nicely rocking groove with "Harvest for the World." Both Nelson and Stryker are distinctively melodic players, which gives all the tunes their due. Vibes and guitar work well together in Marvin Gaye's "What's Going On" and "Trouble Man."  Prince's "When Doves Cry" is taken fast and with smooth competence by the group. It swung well and was capped by good drumming at the end.

Intensity works itself into the performances without changing the nostalgic feeling. There's real intensity and extra flourish brought into Nelson's solo for "Midnight Cowboy," with its famous drooping theme by John Barry. Stryker often suggests a conversation in his solos; there's an adroit dialogue feeling to how he lays out Stevie Wonder's lines in "Send One Your Love." He varies his tone slightly to suit the mood of a song — evident in the tartness of the guitar in the Temptations' "I Can't Get Next to You."

Modern R&B is saluted in James Ingram's "One Hundred Ways," and the disc ends with a jaunt in the wayback machine to Cream's "Sunshine of Your Love." This is a tribute album that works in large part because of the fresh concepts brought to bear on the material.