Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Dave Stryker's Eight Track II on CD

Dave Stryker's Eight Track II sounds sort of like Paul Schaffer's band on the Letterman Show--not the CBS Orchestra but the smaller ensemble that played back in the NBC days. I'm not saying that as any sort of diss. It's just that ten seconds into the first cut, an ebullient yet smooth cover of the Isley Brothers' "Harvest for the World," you'll easily imagine Paul hovering over his keyboards, head bobbing in rhythm, while the other three or four musicians on that little side stage play with oodles of their trademark confidence and professionalism. Part of this vibe comes from heavy doses of Jared Gold's Hammond B-3, but a surprising amount comes from the addition of Steve Nelson's vibraphone which serves the same role as Paul's second and third set of keyboards.

Eight Track II, in other words, isn't moody and soulful like Kind of Blue. It's bubbly, energetic and whimsical, the kind of music you might hear at one of those big fancy parties where everyone is dressed to the nines and yet not afraid to work up a sweat on the dance floor. From the title you'll quickly figure out that this is a follow-up--Stryker's first entry back in 2014 picked up on a novel idea to cover pop classics of the '70s with a jazz trio plus vibraphone. (Bass duties are covered by the B-3 pedals.) On the second pass, Stryker and his guitar expand the repertoire with very intriguing choices, everything from Prince's "When Doves Cry" to Cream's "Sunshine of Your Love" to even Marvin Gaye's "What's Going On." It would seem like a gimmick if Stryker and his band didn't have the chops to carry it off.

Here's the funny thing about this album--those Schaffer parallels are strong in the beginning but they start to melt away about halfway through. The band's take on John Barry's theme from Midnight Cowboy would probably sound a little too reflective coming back from a commercial break, but from there it seems that McClenty Hunter's drums take over and build momentum through the end of the album. The result is somewhat schizophrenic--the familiar themes are introduced in the beginning of each tune and you nod your head affirmatively and think, oh now they're doing The Zombies of Stevie Wonder or The Temptations and then the solos start and those novel feelings get swallowed up in a fury of skillful improvisation.

The fantastic sound quality will also win you over. I'm especially fond of Hunter's crisp and explosive drumming throughout the album, and there's nothing quite as thrilling as the decay from a vibraphone captured with accuracy. In fact, a lot of these jazz CDs I've been getting lately are following that pattern. From the next room I'm relatively unmoved by what sounds like mainstream modern jazz but then I move in closer and start discovering hidden depths, especially when it comes to how well these CDs are recorded. Eight Track II is a perfect example of this--I smirked through the first listen, fixating on the Schaffer similarities, but repeated listenings really won me over.

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