Dave Stryker: Eight Track II
Strikezone Records

The famously maddening eight-track format enjoyed such a short shelf-life that its early-‘70s tenure can be pinpointed with unqualified precision. The era boasted shags (carpeting and hairstyles), bell bottoms, Glam rock, and Watergate, and was also a time when a courageous community of listeners (a '69 GMC van-driving Dave Stryker among them) grappled with the myriad challenges of the eight-track device. It's not so much the format itself for which Stryker's nostalgic but classic tunes associated with the ‘70s that the veteran guitarist and his three compatriots have re-imagined on two volumes, the first arriving in 2014 and the second two years later. The initial collection of soul and pop covers was received so warmly, Stryker and company decided to knock out another round.

Thankfully, the format's been tampered with little for volume two besides a single change in personnel and a greater emphasis on shuffle-based grooves, perhaps a tad too much in the latter case, to be frank. As before, Stryker, Hammond B-3 organist Jared Gold, and drummer McClenty Hunter are joined by a guest vibraphonist, Stefon Harris taking over for Steve Nelson on the sequel. Though to jazz outsiders, Stryker's name might not be as familiar as Scofield's, Frisell's, or Metheny's, his praises have been sung by many, the latter among them, who's said of Stryker that he “just gets better and better with one of the most joyous feels around.” Not that he's losing any sleep over the recognition factor, what with a career distinguished by a 1986-1995 stint with tenor sax legend Stanley Turrentine, the release of twenty-seven recordings as a leader, and a staggering number of appearances on releases by other artists.

The quartet kicks things off with a tight rendering of The Isley Brothers' anti-war opus “Harvest for the World” that highlights some of the best things about the project: the grease dripping from Gold's soulful organ, the driving thrust of Hunter's colourful drumming, the bright timbres of Harris's vibes, and the spirited bop vibe of Stryker's lines. He cheats a little in adding Prince's “When Doves Cry” to the set-list, given that its 1984 appearance arrived years after the eight-track era's demise, but we'll forgive him when the uptempo jazz treatment's so smooth.

Stryker's penchant for soul and R&B is borne out by the selections. Marvin Gaye's represented twice, first in a “What's Going On” treatment that oozes soul, the second a bluesy shuffle-driven version of 1972's “Trouble Man” the quartet serves up raw. Like Gaye, Stevie Wonder receives two nods, the first a gentle, ballad-styled handling of “Send One Your Love,” the second a deliciously soulful take on “Signed, Sealed, Delivered.” Harris's voicing of the familiar theme from John Barry's “Midnight Cowboy” sets the stage for an affectionately warm reading of the tune, while the classic melody by Rod Argent gracing The Zombie's “Time of the Season” remains blessedly intact in the quartet's laid-back shuffle-swing handling. The four offer up one final shuffle-swing version at album's end in a hard-driving cover of Cream's “Sunshine of Your Love.”

Listeners hungry for experimental, genre-bending makeovers will be disappointed as that's not the game Stryker's hunting. He and his bandmates dish out hard-grooving jazz-blues versions that often make the quartet seem like the best bar band you ever walked in on during a particularly serious pub crawl. Adding to the recording's appeal, the musicians don't treat the tunes as mere springboards for blowing; instead, the song structures largely remain in place, with the four threading their solos into the concise frameworks of the tunes. Round three, anyone?

January 2017