Let me suggest that Chick Corea give Daryl Stuermer a call next time the guitar chair opens up in Return to Forever. Before being tapped in 1978 for his lengthy tenure with the prog rockers Genesis, Stuermer says his playing was more oriented toward the fusion genre. His three mid-1970s albums as Jean-Luc Ponty’s guitarist certainly prove this point.
When Stuermer now tours as group leader, he acknowledges that the evening will include a healthy amount of Genesis material. But this is no tribute band or oldies revue. As he told the hometown audience last Saturday night in Cedarburg, Wisc., “Most of these Genesis numbers did not receive much radio exposure.”
The quintet opened with instrumental scorchers “Duke’s End” and “Just a Job to Do.” Over two hours later, a stretched-out “Firth of Fifth” closed the main set, with “Turn It On Again” used as a satisfying encore. Between these pillars of deep-catalog Genesis were several numbers from Stuermer’s most recent solo CD, Go.
Whether playing Genesis tunes or his own compositions, Stuermer effortlessly melded his crisp and muscular lead lines onto the strong melodies and complex arrangements. The music from the evening’s generous set sounded strikingly fresh and vital throughout.
Clearly comfortable in discussing the music, Stuermer recalled how his first assignment for Genesis was to work up the song “Squonk” from a tape the group had sent. At that time, he said he found it interesting how “Squonk” was “a simple tune, yet difficult to play.” His performance showed that he was still intrigued by the song.
The attentive audience showed little recognition when Genesis LP titles such as Trick of the Tail or Wind & Wuthering were mentioned, but was extremely receptive to all of Stuermer’s music, for which the guitarist warmly thanked them.
Throughout the night, on pieces including “Heavy Heart,” “Deep in the Motherlode” and “The Quiet Earth,” Stuermer demonstrated a mastery of technique on his instrument and, occasionally, added some restrained pedal board synthesizer and experiments with sustain. His lines were fluid and clear, with a perfect sound mix allowing the audience to hear each intonation and harmonic.
For the guitar heads: Stuermer played his Godin LGXT for all but two numbers, switching to a blonde Godin Multiac steel string solid body electric for “Your Own Special Way.” At one point he held aloft a large hollow-body Montreal Premiere, which he had just received for Christmas from the Godin Guitar Company. He then played this beautiful crimson instrument on “In Too Deep.”
Milwaukee native Eric Hervey played five-string electric bass, and St. Petersburg transplant Kostia Efimove has been Stuermer’s trusted keyboard man since 1990. Alan Arber only recently joined on drums, but demonstrated a comfort level that made it seem as if he had been with this band for years. Guest performer Woody Mankowski played tenor and soprano saxes throughout the evening and was also the group’s vocalist. A diverse group of musicians but, as Stuermer seemed pleased to stress, each had his own strong Wisconsin connection.
Daryl Stuermer was a welcoming and engaging frontman who led the audience articulately through the trajectory of the evening’s music. However, he seemed most at home while playing those remarkable guitar passages. At this point, Stuermer doesn’t need to be anybody’s sideman; he is busy with his own career and is a 1st-call session cat. But given the opportunity, I believe Stuermer might also make time for a chance to revisit the fusion genre that he put on hold back in 1978. Hey, Chick Corea, are you listening?