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Celebrating his passion for the music he grew up with, veteran guitarist Dave Stryker peppered his solo discography in the 2010s with his spirited three-part (four, if holiday releases count) Eight Track series, creating colorful re-imaginings of ’70s soul, pop and rock classics with his trios and quartet. Fans of Stryker’s 21st Century jazz twists on the oldies include saxophonist Bob Mintzer, who guested several times in Stryker’s organ trio and came up with the concept of adapting some of those inventive tracks to freewheeling big band arrangements.
With Mintzer serving as the principal conductor and arranger for Cologne, Germany’s WDR Big Band, the rousing, funky and playfully swinging Blue Soul collection came together rapidly. In March 2019, Mintzer invited Stryker to Germany for a week of rehearsing, recording and performing with the 16-piece ensemble. As expected, the set includes a few buoyant, bluesy jazz romps through cherished songs from the ’70s — Marvin Gaye’s “Trouble Man” and “What’s Going On” and Jimmy Webb’s “Wichita Lineman” — and also forges into the next decade with a sizzling, brassy swing through Prince’s “When Doves Cry.”
Those four re-imaginings lay the foundation for a well-rounded set that includes a jamming Mintzer original (“Aha”); three sinewy Stryker originals (his brilliant jangling leads, Billy Test’s churchy organ and Mintzer’s monster solo make “Blues Strut” a standout); and the coolly swaggering Stanley Turrentine number “Stan’s Shuffle.” Beyond Mintzer, the explosive solo-sax energy of altoist Johan Hörlén and tenor player Paul Heller provides one of the project’s great driving forces. Here’s hoping that Blue Soul marks the launch of a new series spotlighting both classics and originals. — Jonathan Widran