Dave Stryker: Striking an Authentic Chord
“ Stryker may possess the advanced harmonic language that's prerequisite for the contexts that he places himself in, but there is an element of grit and soulful simplicity that also pervades everything he does. ”
With the release of Trio Mundo Rides Again , guitarist Dave Stryker's Latin jazz collaborative band with bassist Andy McKee, percussionist/vocalist Manolo Badrena and guest saxophonist Steve Slagle, now is as good a time as any to reassess Stryker's career which, while remaining all too far below the broader public radar, is well-known to musicians and critics through fourteen records for the Danish SteepleChase label over thirteen years, as well as notable sideman roles with Stanley Turrentine and Kevin Mahogany.
Stryker's broad discography presents the picture of a guitarist who possesses an almost encyclopaedic knowledge of various styles, from contemporary post bop to modal playing to Latin. But throughout his career one element has dominated, and that's the blues. With a sound that is as much informed by B.B., Albert and Freddie King as it is by Wes Montgomery and Grant Green, Stryker may possess the advanced harmonic language that's prerequisite for the contexts that he places himself in, but there is an element of grit and soulful simplicity that also pervades everything he does.
'96's Blue to the Bone , Stryker's most overtly blue record, distinguishes itself by showing his roots while, at the same time, placing them in contexts that none of his heroes could or would ever find themselves in. "Blues Revisited" may be a simplistic boogie, but in the hands of Stryker the solos manage to drip the kind of emotional depth of Howlin' Wolf and T-Bone Walker, all the while with a melodic concept that is far deeper. Stryker might wail on a single note, but he's just as likely to pull off more complex runs that show exactly how diverse his sources really are.
"Swamp Thing" finds Stryker and his group, including Bruce Barth on piano and organ, bassist Jay Anderson, drummer Billy Drummond and a horn section featuring Brian Lynch on trumpet, Conrad Herwig on trombone, tenor saxophonist Rich Perry and baritone saxophonist Bob Parsons, working a greasy groove that alternates between a New Orleans second line rhythm and a more swinging bridge. "Bayou Blues" starts with Stryker alone on slide guitar, paying tribute to the roots music of the delta, before the group enters with a relaxed Crusaders-like soul groove that gives everyone ample opportunity to move around. Stryker's combination of blistering blues lines and more harmonically broad-minded ideas, coupled with a warm sound that has just the slightest tinge of dirt, builds in intensity while still, somehow, remaining affable and easy-going.
What makes Stryker's take on the blues so appealing is his ability to blend a pure jazz concept with an equally authentic roots blues approach. This isn't jazz-informed blues or blues-informed jazz; it's a more heterogeneous integration where the sources are merged in such a way as to be both clearly visible yet equally subsumed into a new whole.
Stryker's '01 release, Changing Times , is another beast entirely. This time Stryker and long- time musical companion, saxophonist Steve Slagle, who contributes two tunes to the eight-song set of mainly Stryker originals, aim for more open-ended territory, with a strong emphasis on rhythmic content and exploration of irregular metres. The presence of percussionist Manolo Badrena, whom Stryker would, of course, go onto working with in Trio Mundo, helps make this a rhythm-happy event that still maintains a strong musicality, albeit in a more linear context. Often used to working with keyboard players, Stryker specifically opted to work without one in order to leave the harmonic choices more ambiguous. The result is a recording that examines modal post bop in a purely contemporary fashion.
Stryker's playing is, unsurprisingly, more harmonically broad than on Blue to the Bone even though the playing is less change-oriented. There are shades of Pat Martino in the way Stryker runs through rapid-fire lines, and the way he hangs onto and develops a simple phrase into something more on Slagle's fourths-driven "Invocation." Stryker's "Big Mouth" works similar territory, but this time in 5/ 4, and with an unmistakable urban edge that is also evident on the hip hop-inflected 7/4 rhythm of "Circular Scene," written as the result of a planned but ultimately unsatisfied meeting between Stryker and Slagle with saxophonist Joe Lovano in the main subway station in Tokyo. Some of Stryker's inherent blues rears its head on this track, providing a stylistic link to Blue to the Bone , even though there is nothing overtly bluesy about the tune.