Celebrated guitarist gets a world of help from a long list of superstar bass players on his latest CD release
All Over the Place is the latest release from jazz and fusion guitar veteran Mike Stern. First, let’s get one thing out of the way: We know Mike Stern is not a bass player! However, when we noticed that his new release included the likes of Anthony Jackson, Richard Bona, Esperanza Spalding, Victor Wooten, Dave Holland, Tom Kennedy, Will Lee and Victor Bailey, we thought it fitting to review in a website that’s, well… For bass players only!
The aptly titled All Over the Place does seem to include something for everyone, not really atypical for a Mike Stern release. This newest collection includes stellar guitar playing, both acoustic and electric, running the gamut of everything from hard-core funk to straight-ahead jazz, with a bit of fusion, some funky blues, soul and even hard, eighth-note-driven grooves. Some arrangements include horns or strings with electric or upright bass, while others feature various types of electronics, vocals and even an exotic three-stringed Malian instrument called a n’goni, courtesy of Mike’s wife, Leni Stern, who also supplies rhythm guitar.
In addition to the aforementioned bass royalty, All Over the Place features jazz icons Randy Brecker, Kenny Garrett, Al Foster and Dave Weckl. Rounding out the “A” list supporting cast are drummers Keith Carlock, Lionel Cordew and Kim Thompson, saxophonists Chris Potter and Bob Malach, keyboardist Jim Beard and percussionist Tim Keiper.
The album opens with “AJ,” penned by Stern as a tribute to contrabass guitarist Anthony Jackson. The mysterious, funky groove, with haunting sax and guitar melody lines, includes just the right amount of “appropriately placed sub low E” bass notes, supplied by AJ himself. The interplay between Stern and Potter captures the feel, spot on.
Bona’s contributions, no surprise, include not only bass playing, but his unique vocal stylings, as well. He performs on “Camaroon,” an upbeat groove, evoking feelings of hope and promise, and “Light,” a straight-eighth driving groove.
The sensitive “As Far As We Know” is a quiet tune with acoustic guitar, strings and Esperanza Spalding’s unmistakable vocals and upright bass. “I like drama,” says Stern. “I like a lot of dynamics. I like music that has a lot of heart, and I hope this priority comes through in my playing and in my writing, especially on this tune.”
“Out of the Blue” morphs from its exotic beginning, with acoustic piano, trumpet and n’goni, to an all-out, straight ahead “blowing” session, featuring Brecker, over Thompson’s adroit splang-a-lang ride work and Kennedy’s strong, swinging walking lines.
A trio of tunes with drummer Al Foster begins with the funky “Blues for Al,” followed by the playful and swinging “OCD,” featuring extended solos from Stern and Garrett. Next is the quiet, understated “You Never Told Me,” played on acoustic instruments.
The bluesy “Half Way Home” once again offers up the extended low range of the bass, this time courtesy of Victor Wooten, who is also featured in a jaw-dropping solo spot. Stern captures the tune’s essence with his slide guitar playing, while Cordew lays down the backbeat. Bob Malach’s strong saxophone playing is prominently featured on the easy, head bob-inducing “Flip Side,” and the energetic “All Over the Place,” with its angular jagged melody line, closing out the set.
Despite its “something for everyone” approach, Stern somehow manages to tie everything together cohesively, without the sense of being disjointed. “The guitar tends to keep you open-minded because you hear it in so many places,” explains Mike. “You hear it in rock, in country, in pop, in funk, in classical. You hear it in jazz, you hear it in so many kinds of music that you can immediately identify it on one level or another.”
Mike Stern is living proof of that statement, as he pretty much touches on all of them, somewhere or other, in this release. “Music, to me, is a language of the heart,” he says. “I hope people will get some emotional payoff from what I’ve done on this recording. That’s the vibe that I continue to go for with all of my music.”
Review by Jon Liebman
Photos by Sandrine Lee
All over the Place may be purchased here: