by Bea Willis
Simply put, Mike Stern is a living icon, his instantly recognizable sound, impeccable rhythm and rock-bop lines have been with us since the 80’s. However, that momentum was in jeopardy – last summer Stern tripped over construction debris outside his Manhattan home and suffered severe fractures in both arms. By sheer will and love of music, Stern is set to release his seventeenth album as a leader in September titled, Trip on the Heads Up International label. The smiling guitarist states, “If you really want something bad enough, sometimes you have to fight for it; you find a way to make it happen.”
As usual Stern assembles an all-star lineup of different players to appear on his albums, and Trip is no exception. Stern fans will see long time associates like: Jim Beard producer, piano and Hammond organ, Dennis Chambers and Dave Weckl on drums, Bob Franceschini and Bill Evans on saxophone and bassist Tom Kennedy. Among the all-star cast of accompanists are some newer associations: Arto Tuncboyaciyan on percussion, Wooten on bass, Lenny White and Will Calhoun on drums, Teymur Phell on bass and Edmond Gilmore on acoustic bass, Gio Moretti on vocals and wife, Leni Stern on n’goni.
Stern leaves no doubt about his full recovery, with his performance on “Whatachacallit.” A rhythm section foundation consisting of Kennedy and Chambers, Stern unfolds the funky melody with Franceschini and Beard providing strategic keyboard hits. This tune is classic Stern, his compositional skills are tremendous, the form flows between various sections, there is tension and release within the intensity of melodic flow and orchestration. Stern’s solo shows his rock-bop vocabulary and technique is still in top form. The energy is high, Stern holds a power chord to introduce Franceschini’s tenor solo, which heightens the intensity, but always keeps things musical. Culminating in a wonderful interlude, the energy is released with a musical rest and then we are returned to the intro statement.
Stern brings a world sound to a beautiful melody in “I Believe You.” His wife Leni Stern, plays the African three stringed n’goni along with drummer Will Calhoun and bassist Edmond Gilmore. The relaxed beat still finds Stern’s solo chops burning, spinning out effortless chromatic runs and wide spanning ornamented arpeggios whenever the music calls for it. Stern also, shows his vocal side by joining vocalist Gio Moratti on “Emilia.” Proving again that Stern is constantly working his craft, both on and off the guitar.
Trip is an album of personal triumph in a celebration of the joy of music. Stern’s compositions and playing are in top form as the guitarist once again endures and overcomes adversity to bring us music from his heart!
Tracks to sample first: “Trip,” “Whatchacallit,” “I Believe You” and “Half Crazy.” The songs to take a chance on are “Blueprint” and “B Train.”