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Mentor by Kerry Strayer Septet featuring Gary Foster

Kerry Strayer is a saxophonist and arranger from Kansas City, MO. His association with Gary Foster--the L.A based reedman originally hails from Kansas--goes back almost thirty years, when Strayer was a music student and had the opportunity to take lessons from Foster directly. Back to the present day, this relationship has culminated in Mentor, a CD from the Kerry Strayer Septet both featuring and honoring Gary Foster.

Strayer, Foster and the other musicians in the band play well individually--trumpeter Barry Spring and trombonist Earlie Braggs particularly distinguish themselves--but I think the band itself is the real star and that Strayer's most important contributions to the album are the canny arrangements he came up with for them. At seven pieces, the group is very flexible; they can handle fairly complex material and approximate a big band sound, or three of the four horns can drop out and suddenly you have a nice bop combo. On some tracks they alternate both approaches, such as in their versions of Ray Noble's "I Hadn't Anyone Till You" and on Charlie Parker's "Yardbird Suite."

The date includes three Foster originals and eight standards, the latter including pieces by such composers as Billy Strayhorn, Alan Broadbent and Dave Brubeck. They add percussionist Gary Helm on two Latin-tinged tracks, Claire Fischer's "Gaviota" and "Siempre Me Va Bien," written by David Torres of Poncho Sanchez's band. "Gaviota" is one of the albums most outstanding tracks, featuring beautiful flute playing from Foster and nice piano work from Frank Mantooth on the introduction and in a brief solo. Helm, drummer Todd Strait and bassist Bob Bowman do an admirable job playing off each other on both tracks. Strayhorn's "A Flower is a Lovesome Thing" gives Strayer a chance to shine on his favored baritone sax.

New York and Los Angeles seem at the moment to tower over the national jazz scene, with some regard being given towards cities like New Orleans and Chicago. I think the tendency is to think of a lower profile destination like Kansas City as more a part of the music's past than a part of the present moment. That's a shame; any scene that can produce musicians like the ones in the Kerry Strayer Septet deserves national attention.

Additional Info

  • Artist / Group Name: Kerry Strayer Septet featuring Gary Foster
  • CD Title: Mentor
  • Genre: BeBop / Hard Bop
  • Year Released: 2003
  • Record Label: Kerry Strayer Productions
  • Rating: Four Stars
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