(Expanded version of review published in Downbeat Magazine, May 2015)
Messin’ With Mister T
Guitarist Stryker, who in the last quarter century has released more than 20 albums, scored his best-selling album ever last year with Eight Track, his jazz interpretations of 70s pop and R&B hits. Now he’s back with an all-star tribute to his mentor Stanley Turrentine, with whom he played for a decade until the tenor giant’s death in 2000. His debt to Turrentine is obvious – this is where the accomplished, versatile Stryker really got his groove on. It is repaid here in full, in one of the most emotionally satisfying records of the year.
Turrentine, who was a master of phrasing and groove, might be the most blues-drenched jazz tenor player ever, yet he could also bring a level of harmonic sophistication rarely heard in the soul-jazz genre. His strong, confident, masculine voice on the saxophone suggested a depth of life experience, a grown-up sound played with authority. Like Dexter Gordon, he could dazzle you with technique if he wanted to, but he would rather impress you with his depth of feeling.
Messin’ With Mister T includes a gallery of 10 great tenor players, all of whom tip their hats to Turrentine while maintaining their individual voices. Yet the album serves equally as a showcase for Stryker’s soaring flights of melody and Jared Gold’s free-spirited virtuosity on Hammond, with excellent support from drummer McLenty Hunter and percussionist Mayra Casales. Stryker and Gold both go for broke here, building on a solid blues foundation, but, like their inspiration, taking it into more advanced, sometimes startling harmonic and rhythmic territory.
There are many standout performances: Houston Person’s easygoing take on the rollicking blues shuffle “La Place Street;” Jimmy Heath’s simple, magisterial ele-gance on Ellington’s “In a Sentimental Mood;” and Chris Potter’s show-stopping solo on Coltrane’s “Impressions,” to name three. Javon Jackson, Don Braden, Steve Slagle, Bob Mintzer, Mike Lee, Eric Alexander and Tivon Pennicott turn in equally strong performances. “Sugar,” Turrentine’s best known tune, is reimagined with a laid-back, loping, 6/8 feel, until the entrance of tenor ace Jackson, who waxes bop-eloquent over a 4/4 walking bass. Finally, Stryker brings it home by breaking out Turrentine’s familiar, soulful strut. Messin’ With Mr. T is an overdue, joyous homage to a master.
Messin’ With Mister T: La Place Street; Pieces of Dreams; Don’t Mess With Mister T; In a Sentimental Mood; Impressions; Gibraltar; Salt Song; Sugar; Sidesteppin’; Let It Go (70:36)
Personnel: Dave Stryker, guitar; Jared Gold, organ; McClenty Hunter, drums; Mayra Casales, percussion; Jimmy Heath, Houston Person, Eric Alexander, Chris Potter, Tivon Pennicott, Don Braden, Javon Jackson, Steve Slagle, Bob Mintzer, Mike Lee, tenor saxophones.
Ordering info: davestryker.com