When music has the power to stop one in their tracks, it usually speaks a pretty commanding language. If you ask me, jazz is America's lingua franca.
Exiting the Calumet Arts Cafe Saturday night, the sound of guitarist Dave Stryker's playing floated out from inside the club.
Mixing with the sounds of the street, the jazz not only halted my progress, but it snared the ears of a young man from across the street.
"Who's playing?" he asked.
"Dave Stryker...jazz!" I answered.
"Cool," he replied with an upward inflection indicating he understood.
Jazz is about communicating whether you speak the same language or not. It was a point Stryker made between sets as he talked about playing with Japanese jazz musicians on a recent trip to the Orient.
"We couldn't speak each other's language but we communicated through our music," he said.
Stryker's playing still bears the blues influence of his affiliation with organist Jack McDuff's group and his later work with tenor saxophonist Stanley Turrentine.
His two sets also featured the intimate song styling of Sue Thompson, a thrush with an ability to navigate well-known melodies like "Nice and Easy" with a joyous lilt. Her voice was perfectly suited to the cozy confines of the Calumet.
But, it was the guitarist's playing with local players Sam Falzone on tenor, John Hasselback on piano, Louie Marino on drums and Dave Sigfried on bass that was most impressive.
He has a warm touch that is enhanced by his fingerpicking style. His playing is reminiscent of legendary guitarists, such as Wes Montgomery and Kenny Burrell.
Listening to him interact with his group was to be privy to a private conversation between master players. He opened his set exploring the melodic and harmonic possibilities of Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn's "Prelude To A Kiss," unaccompanied.
A bluesy transition eased into Gershwin's "Summertime." Marino laid down a brush beat while the rest of the rhythm section slid into place.
However, a long, double-time run by Stryker had Marino grabbing for his sticks and the band kicking everything up a couple of notches. An octaves passage set the stage for Falzone's raw-boned solo, a combination of edgy bop mixed with Lester Young tenderness.
During pianist Hasselback's solo, Stryker and Falzone riffed on Miles Davis' "All Blues," hinting at some of the horn arrangements that Falzone's horn group will be providing for Stryker when they perform this afternoon at 2 p.m. at the free Buffalo News Jazz at the Albright-Knox series.
Jazz guitarist Dave Stryker and vocalist Sue Thompson
Saturday night at the Calumet Arts Cafe