CD REVIEW: Dave Stryker – Messin’ With Mister T

Dave Stryker – Messin’ With Mister T
(Strikezone Records. 8812. CD Review by Alison Bentley)

The Mister T in question is sax-player the late Stanley Turrentine. US guitarist Dave Stryker played in his band for 10 years from the mid 80s. This album features Stryker’s organ trio on 10 tracks, each with a different tenor-player, each keen to add to this tribute to the much-admired Turrentine.

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The tunes are taken from the Turrentine set-list, and the variety of grooves is a measure of drummer McClenty Hunter’s versatility. The album opens and closes with two strongly swinging Turrentine compositions. Stryker paid his dues in the 80s with Hammond-player Jack McDuff, who taught him to play music ‘that makes people move their head and tap their feet.’ La Place Street has a shuffle to lift the heart too. Soul jazz sax-player Houston Person complements Stryker’s warm bluesy tone, with its Pat Martino-like bop phrasing. In the hard bop Let It Go, Tivon Pennicott’s Joe Henderson-like tone interacts with Stryker’s bluesy bent notes and fast runs. George Benson played on Turrentine’s iconic 1971 Sugar album, and was one of Stryker’s greatest influences- you can hear that in his tumbling joyous phrases in the breakneck Impressions. Chris Potter’s solo is full of fast, chromatic toughness, a wonderful contrast with Stryker’s sinuous tone, particularly as they trade phrases over an extended coda.

There are two Latin tracks: Legrand’s Pieces of Dreams and Nascimento’s Salt Song. The first has delicate cymbals behind Mike Lee’s plaintive vibrato, as he reaches the higher registers. Stryker’s clarity of phrasing at times recalls Jim Mullen. Mayra Casales’ effusive percussion starts the second (she plays on six of the tracks), before the double time samba settles into a sunny Latin groove. Eric Alexander’s tone is invigorating, with a hint of breathiness; less bluesy but almost percussive as the samba section recurs.

The quiet place at the centre is In a Sentimental Mood with Jimmy Heath’s emotive delivery (at 88 the eldest musician on the album). It’s heightened by the colour washes of Jared Gold’s Hammond. Stryker’s chord-melody intro is gorgeous, tinted with unexpected harmonies. Sugar, perhaps Turrentine’s best-known tune, is in a gentle, up-tempo 6/8, with some Wes-style octave work from Stryker. As the piece starts to walk, Gold’s Hammond bass line is especially effective behind Javon Jackson’s sax and Gold’s own drawling bluesy solo. Marvin Gaye’s Don’t Mess With Mister T is also in 6, but with a powerful backbeat that gives it a Chicago blues flavour. Don Braden’s sax is both raunchy and sweet. Stryker plays as if he’s singing the blues.

Hubbard’s Gibraltar and Stryker’s own Side Steppin’ are impossibly funky. Gibraltar has a taut groove and muscly sax tones from Bob Minzer, with brooding minor Hammond chords and cymbal splashes. Stryker recorded Side Steppin’ with Turrentine’s band in 1995. Stryker has talked of how he played melodies along with Turrentine, and learned his phrasing. He sounds particularly comfortable in unison with saxophonist Steve Slagle, with whom he’s worked for many years. The whole band sounds great, riffing and comping freely together.

Mr T himself would surely have enjoyed this heartfelt tribute: each sax player has his own distinctive sound and the trio has a soulful sense of swing. This is a very fine album that definitely gets my vote.

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