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Listening Post: Guitarist Dave Stryker and composer of classical Pop Art Michael Daugherty

JAZZ

Dave Stryker, “Eight Track II” (Strikezone). Back in 2014, Dave Stryker, tongue firmly in cheek, reported a “groovy” idea – ‘70’s pop favorites played by his blue collar jazz trio with a guest vibraphonist. It was nothing if not popular with music buyers and what’s left of jazz radio. Since one good turn will almost always deserve another in American capitalism, here is Stryker going back to the well, this time with vibraphonist Steve Nelson. Stryker is the guitarist from Omaha who spent several years as a headliner of the Buffalo News Summer Jazz Series at the Albright-Knox Gallery. His current trio is with B-3 organist Jared Gold (whose pedals, of course, provide bass lines) and drummer McClenty Hunter. Because of the record’s basic game plan, its repertoire makes it difficult to resist – Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Going On” and “Trouble Man,” the theme from “Midnight Cowboy,” Prince’s “When Doves Cry,” Stevie Wonder’s “Signed, Sealed and Delivered” and “Send One Your Love,” the Temptations’ “I Can’t Get Next To You,” The Zombies’ “Time of the Season,” James Ingram’s “One Hundred Ways,” The Isley Brothers’ “Harvest for the World,” and Cream’s “Sunshine of Your Love.” All that familiarity doesn’t mean that these guys haven’t had a good time re-thinking things. I have my doubts about the uptempo version of “When Doves Cry” but then John Barry’s “Midnight Cowboy” brings out colors that aren’t exactly common in blue collar club jazz.. It’s all in good fun. Three stars out of four. – Jeff Simon

CLASSICAL

Michael Daugherty, “Tales of Hemingway,” “American Gothic” and “Once Upon a Castle” with cellist Zuill Bailey, organist Paul Jacobs and the Nashville Symphony conducted by Giancarlo Guerrero (Naxos). Here are some cultural marriages not often seen in America – and certainly not in this era i.e. contemporary classical music with some of the best known classic American literature, equally well-known American painting and the lunatic conspicuous consumption of one of our richest and most loonily consuming citizens. Michael Daugherty is as close to a pop artist a la Lichtenstein and Warhol as contemporary classical music gets. In his tonal musical language, he is usually allusive. His Hemingway piece for cello and orchestra pays tribute to Hemingway’s story “Big Two-Hearted River” and the novels “For Whom the Bell Tolls,” “The Old Man and the Sea,” and “The Sun Also Rises.” Not nearly as successful is “American Gothic” a tribute to the paintings of Grant Wood. On the other hand, “Once Upon a Castle” refers evocatively to San Simeon, the lunatic castle built and stuffed with artifacts by William Randolph Hearst and so grotesquely re-imagined by Orson Welles in “Citzen Kane.” Not for Daugherty is classical music that exists only of and for itself (the kind that one magazine editor snidely synopsized by retitling an essay by composer Milton Babbitt “Who Cares If You Listen?”) This is instantly communicative music – in no danger of competing in cultural bandwidth with its inspirations but very appealing at its best. And very well-performed by all, especially cellist Zuill Bailey. Three and a half out of four stars. – Jeff Simon

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