Guitarist Dave Stryker apparently likes to keep himself busy. Just last year, he worked with members of the WDR Big Band and Yellowjackets saxophonist Bob Mintzer on the record Blue Soul. Additionally, he released the latest addition to his Eight Track series, and a holiday compilation in 2019. As a matter of fact, going all the way back to his1988 debut record First Strike, Stryker has gone no more than two years between new albums, both as a band leader and as a member of a given group. One would think that considering this, Stryker would have burned himself out by now. His latest album, Baker’s Circle seems to say otherwise, though. Released March 5, Baker’s Circle shows Stryker is still at the top of his game, along with his fellow musicians – Mayra Casales (percussion), McClenty Hunter (drums), Jared Gold (Organ), and Walter Smith III (tenor saxophone) – with little if any sign of slowing down. This 10-song record impresses in part because of its featured songs, which will be discussed shortly. The songs’ sequencing builds on the foundation formed by the songs themselves and will be examined a little later. The album’s production rounds out its most important elements and will also be discussed later. Each item noted here is key in its own way to the whole of the record. All things considered, they make Baker’s Circle another viable candidate for a spot on any critic’s list of the year’s top new jazz and blues albums.
Dave Stryker’s latest album, Baker’s Circle is an enjoyable presentation that any jazz enthusiast will find engaging and entertaining. That is due in no small part to the album’s featured songs. The songs in question are a mix of Stryker’s originals and a series of covers. What’s important to note here is that in regards to the covers, they touch on more than one style of music. The collective takes on a jazz standard in Cole Porter’s ‘Everything I Love,’ a well-known R&B song in a cover of Marvin Gaye’s ‘Inner City Blues’ and a pop song in the cover of Leon Russell’s ‘Superstar.’ There is even a cover of Stanley Turrentine’s ‘Trouble (No. 2)’ here as part of the whole. Given, covers make up the majority of the record (seven of the record’s 10 total songs are covers), but there is still a trio of original tunes here. The originals are engaging and entertaining in their own way. ‘Tough,’ the first of the originals and the album opener, blends Stryker’s subtle guitar work with the work of Hunter and Gold to really give the song a big band feel and sound even with so few instruments. The eventual addition of Smith’s work on saxophone — which at times sounds like it’s been layered — adds even more to the composition’s appeal. It adds even more to that big band vibe in its own right, too. That is a tribute to the work of the musicians and those behind the glass. It is a great modern jazz piece that will still entertain jazz aficionados across the board. ‘El Camino’ by comparison, has a bit more of a bluesy approach and sound. That is evident through the organ, guitar, and Latin percussion. ‘Dreamsong’ is even more bluesy than ‘El Camino.’ Smith takes center stage on this one while Hunter’s subtle time keeping partners with him and Gold to flesh out the song even more. The three originals collectively make for plenty of engagement and entertainment within themselves. When they are considered with the arrangements featured in the covers, the arrangements in whole give listeners plenty of reason to take in this record. The arrangements are, collectively, just one part of what makes the album successful. The song’s sequencing adds to that appeal.
What is important to note about the sequencing of Baker’s Circle is that it keeps the record’s energy relatively stable throughout its 57-minute run time. While ‘Tough’ is subtle in its approach, Stryker’s performance on guitar opens the album on a high-energy note. Audiences will note that from there, the energy gradually pulls back until it reaches its most relaxed point in ‘Everything I Love.’ ‘Rush Hour,’ the album’s midpoint, picks things back up with its hybrid bop/free jazz style approach. So through the first half of the album, what audiences get is a record whose energy gradually and deliberately lessens up until its midpoint. ‘Superstar,’ which immediately follows, is a direct contrast to ‘Rush Hour’ with its gentle, danceable slow jazz groove. Stryker and company once again pick the energy right back up immediately after in ‘Baker’s Circle.’ ‘Inner City Blues’ keeps the groove going before the album pulls back once again in the even slower ‘Love Dance’ before giving way once more to something more energetic in ‘Trouble (No. 2).’ Looking back, it is evident that there was a deliberate approach taken to the sequencing of Baker’s Circle’s songs. It starts off strong before gradually pulling back. Once it reaches a certain point, the album picks back up, ensuring listeners’ engagement even more. The energy pulls back again from that second crest before gradually picking back up again to close out the record. The clear thought put into this sequencing paid off, as it, again, pays off in its own way. The overall result here is that the sequencing does its own share to keep listeners engaged and entertained as the songs themselves. Keeping all of this in mind, there is still one more item to examine in addressing what makes this album work. That item is the record’s production.
The production here is important to discuss because it is that work that ensures the songs impact well not only because of how they are sequenced, but also because of how they sound. That painstaking work paid off, too. Whether in the album’s more relaxed moments or its busier songs, the instrumentation in each arrangement was so well-balanced. The slower, more “reserved’ songs allow the subtleties in the drums, guitar, and saxophone to really shine through while the busier songs make sure that none of the musicians overpower one another. The overall result here is that each arrangement is fully immersive. To that end, the production of Baker’s Circle proves just as important to the album as its content and related sequencing. All things considered, they make the album a viable candidate for a spot on any critic’s list of the year’s top new jazz albums. That is the case even though the majority of the record is composed of covers.
Dave Stryker’s latest album, Baker’s Circle, is an enjoyable new offering from the veteran guitarist. It is a presentation that his fans will appreciate just as much as those of the acts whose music is covered here. That is due in no small part to the songs and the arrangements connected with each. The sequencing of those songs adds even more appeal to the album thanks to the obviously intentional order. It ensures the record’s energy rises and falls just enough at the right points. The production of the songs ensures that each song sounds the best that it can, bringing everything full circle. Each item noted is important in its own way to the whole of the album. All things considered, they make Baker’s Circle an enjoyable listen for any jazz fan. The album is available now. More information on the record is available along with all of Dave Stryker’s latest news at:
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