A few years ago, a great guitarist from the Midwest went back to the soothing pop melodies of the mid-60s to the mid-70s — his formative years — and in doing so took us all back, too. What’s It All About isn’t so much another statement of the guitar prowess of Pat Metheny as it is to remind us that AM radio in the time of LBJ, Nixon and Ford offered strains as soothing and weighty as the old Tin Pan Alley ditties from a half century earlier. It’s a rich field of music largely un-mined by jazz musicians.
Now comes another master plectrist from the American heartland reminding us again of how great these old tunes were and still are. Dave Stryker ‘s Eight Track (March 4, Strikezone Records) doesn’t literally means there’s eight tracks in his pop covers collection — there are ten songs, actually — that’s just referring to the way many of us baby boomers listened to tunes back then. And Stryker doesn’t bring them back alone as Metheny did, he put together a quartet to make that happen.
Jared Gold, Stryker’s favored B-3 player, is on board as is drummer McClenty Hunter. The “wild card,” if you will, the guy who supplements the usual organ jazz trio, is top shelf vibraphone player Stefon Harris. In additional to serving as an additional soloist, and a dazzling one at that, Harris enjoins Stryker on the thematic lines, illuminating them and giving the listener a direct connection back to the original no matter how much the band gets creative in the arrangements.
That’s why even though the Spinners’ “I’ll Be Around” is converted into a toe-tapping shuffle, anyone familiar with the song will recognize it, and the swapping of the lead part with Gold gets everyone actively involved. Hunter employs that hypnotic pulse used in “Shhh/Peaceful” from Miles Davis’ In A Silent Way for Curtis Mayfield’s “Superfly/Pusherman” and Harris’ solo is sweet followed by Gold’s sassy run.
“Wichita Lineman” is also made peppier, a light waltz in the hands of this group. Stryker uses octaves tastefully as Harris’ vibes takes the place of the strings. Song is much peppier here. Gold’s comping is here is impressive, modulating his organ sound just so at the right times. The Fifth Dimension’s “Aquarius” is set to a brisk walk, a springboard for Stryker going to town George Benson style, and the Jackson Five’s “Never Can Say Goodbye” becomes a playground for Harris’ own torrid runs.
Like Metheny, Stryker found a pretty melody from The Association catalog; he plays “Never My Love” as tender as the original, tracing the lyrical lines straight and then adding some soulful asides. “That’s The Way of the World” is also played similar to the original, in the same tempo, and if you listen closely enough to Stryker’s brief solo, you’ll notice his guitar resonating with the tone as the guitar on the original solo in spite of him not really mimicking the lines.
Perhaps the most intriguing choice for a cover is Pink Floyd’s “Money,” because the 7/4 meter and blues-based changes makes this closer to being a straight jazz tune than people realize and Stryker just makes that more obvious.
Nostalgia as a driving force for a covers album doesn’t guarantee it will be a great covers album, but Stryker’s choice of material, his treatment of them and the personnel he enlisted in re-invigorating these songs makes Eight Track one of those good ones. Really good, even.
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