Soul-jazz guitarist Dave Stryker is one of the most prolific artists on the scene. Last May we brought you Blue Soul where he performed with the WDR Big Band. Baker’s Circle will be his eighth album in six years. A good part of Stryker’s appeal and success owes to his ability to put his distinctive soul jazz spin on pop and R&B hits, especially through his Eight Track series which now boasts three editions plus a Christmas issue. Stryker has long established his credibility. After moving to New York City in the ’80s, he toured for several years with organist Jack McDuff. In 1986, he met Stanley Turrentine, and spent the next decade touring with the saxophonist, where he arguably came into his own as a guitarist. As a solo artist, Stryker recorded four albums with Steeplechase in the ‘90s, fifteen more in the 2000s for Steeplechase and other labels, before founding his own Strikezone label in 2014, for which this is now his eighth.
Here Stryker is joined by his organ trio, organist Jared Gold and drummer McClenty Hunter, both of whom also have albums as leaders that Stryker produced on his label. The addition of acclaimed contemporary tenor saxophonist Walter Smith III (In Common, Ambrose Akinmusire, Eric Harland) in a more straight-ahead session than one usually finds him, gives the quartet a sound that traces back to Stryker’s familiar stint with Turrentine. In fact, the closer, “Trouble (No. 2),” is a groover that Stryker originally recorded with “Mr. T.” On three tracks Cuban percussionist Mayra Casales joins to form a quintet. There’s plenty of room in each of these ten tunes for the frontline members of Stryker, Smith III, and Gold to stretch out.
The album begins with three Stryker originals. Casales joins on the Latin-tinged “El Camino” following the rather tight jazzy opener “Tough.” “Dreamsong” in 7/4 time gets bluesy in keeping with Stryker’s bent. From there, other than the title track, it’s a mix of covers and originals. Cole Porter’s “Everything I Love” is a medium temp swinger while Gold’s own “Rush Hour” burns, showing not only the organist’s chops but a rollicking solo from Smith III. In keeping with the mode of the Eight Track series Stryker and unit put their stamp on Leon Russell’s “Superstar” and Marvin Gaye’s “Inner City Blues.” The title track owes to composer and educator David Baker whom Stryker met at a jazz camp when he was 17 and later hired Stryker to be guitar professor at Indiana University a few years ago. The album is dedicated to Baker and to Stryker’s friend, the late Vic Juris.
Stryker is carrying on the tradition of such masters as McDuff and Jimmy Smith, and although he leans even more to the blues/soul side than pure jazz, one could make the case for him being a kind of modern-day Grant Green, a comparison that Stryker would most likely endorse.