Looking terrifically young for his 46 years, Mike stepped on stage and, picking up his Yahama Pacificia, led the quartet in a composition, Play, from his latest Atlantic release of the same name. This slightly funky, upbeat exploration came together when Mike and Bob dazzled the audience with a give and take duet. Morales and Goines held it down until they too diced it up with a fiery drum solo (triples galore) and solid bass improvisation. The second selection, Slow Change, bridged shades of rock, and whining blues into harmonic jazz tones. Mike’s occasional boyish grin was a pleasant mix with the blending of this "something for everybody" jaunt.
The third song of the set, untitled and unrecorded, started with a light, almost folkish, solo by Mike, advancing into a West Coast, smooth jazz styling. It had a Metheny feel to it, but with a sharper edge. Franceschini was outstanding on sax and when both Stern and Franceschini joined together, the sound was rich and full. I would have liked to hear the quartet play together a bit more with a little less soloing. Don’t get me wrong, the solos were great, but when they all came together, the sound was dynamic. Two more songs completed the first set; All Heart, a soft, haunting ballad and lastly, a very progressive, uptempo groove where Mike’s blistering guitar riffs and Richie Morales scorching drum solo wowed spectators.
During the short intermission, I had the pleasure of briefly speaking with Mike as he signed autographs and copies of his new CD. Mike is warm and friendly without a trace of ego. He said he has signed another contract with Atlantic Records. "Atlantic has been really good to me. I have been with them for 12 years and recorded nine albums. I’m really hoping I can record another nine. I can’t tell you how great they have been."
I asked Mike if he had any ideas for upcoming CDs. "I’ve been thinking about trying some new things, perhaps doing something with a singer. Can you believe that? It would be really different for me. Anyway, I’m thinking about it. Right now I have a heavy tour schedule. European audiences are great and I can’t thank you enough for covering our performance. It is difficult to get media coverage here so it’s nice when it happens."
I also had a short conversation with Bob Franceschini. Of Puerto Rican descent, Bob of course, has his roots in that direction having played with Tito Puente, Chico O’Farrill and Armando Rodriquez. His list of credits is impressive and he is versatile in alto, tenor and baritone sax, as well as the flute. He played at North Sea Jazz Fest in 1999 and hopes that there will be enough time between his touring schedule to do so again this year.
With just a 20 minute intermission between sets, there was no opportunity to speak with Richie Morales or Lincoln Goines. Morales is more popularly known for his work with Spyro Gyro. An outstanding, aggressive drummer, Richie has a long list of credits including Al DiMeola (Kiss My Axe) and Grover Washington, Jr., to name a few. Lincoln Goines is a well sought after bass player who also has an impressive credit list having played with the likes of Dave Grusin, Tania Maria, Dizzy Gillespie and Bob Berg. I would definitely have liked to hear more from these talented players, but there was just enough time for one quick picture with Mike and it was on to the second set.
The first set was just a prelude to this outstanding three number second set. Mike’s dynamite phrasing was imaginative and again, the blending of guitar and sax took on a magic of its own. The highlight of the evening was the exceptional, Tipatina, where each musician literally launched into space as wows and whistles from the audience joined in the crescendo. Richie Morales must have scorched his Attack drumheads and heated his Zildjians to 105 degrees as he and Mike raced to the finish line. It was so, so good. A two piece encore ended the evenings festivities.
Concentrating on exposure and recognition, the Mike Stern Band will be touring heavily, performing 33 concerts throughout Europe into April. They will tour the U.S. in May, Australia in June and Japan in July. Mike sheds the conformity of the past and explores new dimensions. Using his diverse background, it all comes alive in his gutsy jazz fusion compositions. On his latest release, Play, he works these variations and you can hear the development of his fused expressionism. His use of effects such as digital delay and distortion are used seductively in discovering his own creative vision of jazz.
Mike Stern was born in Boston in 1954. He attended the Berklee School of Music, studying under Pat Metheny and Mick Goodrick and began his professional career with Blood, Sweat and Tears in 1976. He moved into jazz-rock with Billy Cohham’s band in 1978. His big break came with an invitation to join Miles Davis’s comeback band, appearing on The Man with the Horn. He toured with Miles until 1983 when he joined Jaco Pastorius on Word Of Mouth and then rejoined Davis for a tour of Europe. He has contributed to recordings with Michael Brecker (Steps Ahead) and Bob Berg (Cycles, In The Shadow, Back Roads and Short Stories). He has also played with Dennis Chambers, Bunny Brunel, Harvie S and Lew Soloff. While Mike is a high-energy electric guitarist, he has shades of subtlety such as can be heard on Michael Brecker’s Don’t Try This At Home (1981) along with Herbie Hancock, Jack DeJohnette and Charlie Haden.
Mike Stern has surely found his place as a leader in the world of post-bop/fusion and a "must-see" should you happen to have the opportunity to catch him on one of his upcoming tour dates.