PART 2 Join Pete Callard as he uncovers some of the greatest licks from the giants of jazz guitar. This month, a second look at Mike Stern...
Pete Callard examines Mike Stern’s straighter jazz side in this second in a two-part series.
As i sAid last month i thought it would be illuminating to focus on Mike stern’s more straight-ahead jazz style. Last time we discussed his development as a guitarist and the early part of his career, culminating in the release of his first two official solo albums, Upside downside and Time in Place. The acclaim of stern’s debut recordings as leader led to a steady stream of solo releases. His third album, Jigsaw, was released in 1989, followed by Odds Or Evens in 1991; both saw him further developing his distinctive angular and emotive compositional style and unique solo voice. The following year he became part of the reformed Brecker Brothers band led by saxophonist Michael and trumpeter Randy, on the album Return Of The Brecker Brothers and the live dVd spherical. 1992 also saw the release of an acclaimed album of primarily straight-ahead jazz standards (And Other songs), leading to the award of Best Jazz Guitarist of the Year from Guitar Player magazine. He followed this with is What is and Between The Lines in 1994 and 1996, both Grammy nominees. stern’s 1997 release Give And Take saw a return to straight-ahead jazz, featuring saxophonists Michael Brecker and david sanborn alongside bassist John Patitucci, drummer Jack deJohnette and percussionist don Alias, and won him the Orville W Gibson award for Best Jazz Guitarist. 1999’s Play teamed stern with jazz guitarists Bill Frisell and John Scofield, while Voices (2001) saw him exploring world music, with wordless vocals from Richard Bona, Arto Tuncboyaciyan and Elisabeth Kontomanou. After 15 years with Atlantic, 2004’s These Times saw stern move to EsC records, and again featured Richard Bona alongside guests including saxophonist Kenny Garrett and banjo virtuoso Bela Fleck. Who Let The Cats Out (2006) saw Stern again move label, this time to Heads Up international, and won him another Grammy nomination. The following year he was awarded the Miles davis award at the Montreal Jazz Festival, at which he performed onstage with The Yellowjackets, an association that led to 2008’s celebrated Lifecycle. Big Neighbourhood (2009) threw up a varied list of collaborators, including steve Vai, Eric Johnson and Medeski, Martin and Wood, and was recorded between New York, Austin and Los Angeles. In early 2012 Guitar Player awarded Stern their Certified Legend Award, with the album All Over The Place following later in the year. Stern’s latest recording, 2014’s Eclectic, sees him again joining forces with Eric Johnson in a stripped-back small group setting, and was recorded primarily live in a period of three days at Johnson’s Austin studio.
Today we continue to examine stern’s jazz style and discuss his approaches on popular jazz sequences. The six examples take in long and short ii-V-i ideas, bebop bridge, rhythm changes and jazz blues sequences, and focus in on his bebop vocabulary, substitutions, outside ideas, intervallic patterns and use of motifs. All the examples are uptempo, and feature a torrent of amazing and inspiring ideas. stern tends towards picking every note, so the examples provide quite a picking hand workout, and he imbues everything with an understated swing and subtle dynamics, ghosting some notes and phrases while lightly accenting others to create real light and shade in his seemingly endless lines. it’s really worth spending some time with these and last month’s examples, as between them Mike stern presents a genuine masterclass in the art of contemporary jazz guitar.
NeXT MoNTH: Pete switches his focus to that jazz-blues master, Robben Ford
I check out a lot of sax and trumpet players. I try to get some of those ideas on the guitar. Mike Stern
Mike Stern: one of the modern jazz greats