Dave Stryker – Messin’ With Mister T (2015)

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When premier soul-jazz tenor giant Stanley Turrentine left us in 2000, it was probably destined that his guitar player would someday pay proper homage to him. The guitarist did make that record full fifteen years later, but if anything, the legend of Turrentine has only grown over this period of time.

Messin’ With Mister T is Dave Stryker’s grand show of appreciation for his former boss, who’s hire of Stryker to one his last bands was a “real validation” to the young guitarist who was already validated enough to play in Brother Jack McDuff’s band for a number of years.

A validation of the enormous affection for — and influence of –Turrentine himself came when Stryker set out to make this record with his regular trio with Jared Gold (B3) and McClenty Hunter (drums) and one accomplished tenor sax player for each of the ten tracks (Mayra Casales played percussion on some of these tracks). Each one of the ten “immediately came on board,” recounts a pleasantly surprised Stryker. “Stanley meant so much to all of us.”

To be sure, it’s a dizzying array of tenor men spanning some three-four generations from Jimmy Heath (b. 1926) to Tivon Pennicott (b. 1985). Some, like Stryker, knew the man first hand but every one are well acquainted with the man’s music. All of the tunes chosen for this collection were in Turrentine’s set-list rotation when Stryker gigged with him in the 90s and full of songs — Turrentine originals and otherwise — that are closely bound to him and his legacy.

Houston Person is probably closest in age to Turrentine of the ten special guests, and his RnB-heavy brand of jazz sax is likewise closest in style to the late master. That sure seems so from listening to “La Place Street,” the last song Stanley played live, and Person shows he shares a rare, sincere soulfulness with Turrentine shared by a scant few others.

But Turrentine wasn’t just about soul, he was also about swing (“Impressions”), balladry (“In A Sentimental Mood”), funk (“Gibraltar”), blues (“Let It Go”) and even Brazil (“Salt Song”). Messin’ With Mister T covers all those areas to remind us that there was a lot about “T” that made him one of the greats.

And the guys Stryker chose to share the lead with him are pretty darned great, too. Person, of course, is sort of a kindred spirit of Turrentine but everyone else are being entirely themselves, too. Heath’s no-nonsense rendering of the classic melody of “In A Sentimental Mood” is simple beauty. Chris Potter matches Stryker’s smoldering guitar with his usual incendiary solo. Eric Alexander’s prancing sax lifts Milton Nascimento’s “Salt Song” and he does it in his own way. Pennicott’s veteran type performance on “Let It Go” captures a lot of the soul and nuance we hear from Joe Lovano.

For his part, Stryker sets out to show what Turrentine saw in him. He delivers effortlessly pretty and melodic lines on “Pieces Of A Dream,” rolls out Montgomery octaves like a champ on the Marvin Gaye original “Don’t Mess With Mister T” and nails the funky complexities of George Benson during “Sugar.” Hunter is a steady groovin’ presence on drums and Gold never disappoints when it’s his turn to shine; check out his original licks on “Don’t Mess With Mister T” and “Side Steppin’.”

So maybe it was a good idea for Dave Stryker to wait on making this record until jazz had to endure for a while in a world without Stanley Turrentine around. Messin’ With Mister T only makes us miss him more.

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