Thursday, January 28, 2016

Mike Stern - 1992 "Standards (and other songs)"

Guitarist Mike Stern, best-known for playing rock-oriented fusion and in more commercial settings, surprised many listeners by recording an album dominated by standards. Actually, there are three originals included among the 11 pieces, but Stern also digs into such songs as "Like Someone in Love," "Moment's Notice," Chick Corea's "Windows," and "Straight No Chaser." Among Stern's sidemen on this fairly straight-ahead but adventurous set are trumpeter Randy Brecker, Bob Berg on tenor, and keyboardist Gil Goldstein. This little-known release is well-worth acquiring.

Mike Stern always has displayed a large be-bop influence in both his playing and compositions so this Cd was inevitable. What we end up hearing on this disc is the closest thing to seeing Mike Stern's band live until he actually releases a live disc. The playing is amazing and he adds new life to some standards. Although all of the covers were written for piano or saxophone, Mike shows that guitar is a great medium for Jazz. Among the highlights are "There is no greater Love" and "Straight No Chaser". There isn't a dissapointing moment on the entire disc. The one noticable difference between this one and the others is the sound of Mr. Stern's guitar. Unlike the other discs ,where he will incorporate a distorted tone during a part of a song, the whole Cd is played with a clean tone. However, this does not stop Mike from displaying non-jazz influences in his playing. Mike Stern doesn't play with the unbelievable speed of other guitarists (Holdsworth,Lane,Etc.) but he does have a unique style and nobody puts together phrases better than him. For anyone that would like to learn another way to approach the instrument this is a great place to start. Actually this Cd is great for any jazz/fusion lover because there are many lessons to be learned on this recording. 

Stern's 'Standards and Other Songs' originally came as a disappointment to me, though I'm ashamed to admit it. The issue, I think, was that I expected the same sort of 'balsy' distorted funk-bebop of, say, 'Play'--a great album in and of itself--yet, 'Standards' is much more subdued than any other Stern outings I can think of. No distortion. Quiet. Little audible harmonic accompanyment to many of the solos.
The great thing about this album, then, is the way Stern really comes through as the killer bebopper that he is. Close listeners will hear the harmonic movement imbedded in the lines and not miss another comping instrument (there is a keyboard on a few tracks, but it is quite subdued and quiet).
Though, I confess, I think 'Between the Lines' and 'Give and Take' are my favorites of Stern's, 'Standards' offers something that these don't. Much like Metheny's Trio outings, it gives one a different perspective and a different flavor--and a wonderful one at that. It's technically impressive, grooving, and it also helps to solidify Stern as one of the best bebop guitarists out there today.
A few other points
* For those who've seen Mike at the 55 Bar in NYC or wish to, 'Standards' is much more in line with that sort of playing than his other work, save perhaps 'Give and Take'.
* Those who are not well-versed in Bird, Trane, etc--ie, rock fans getting into jazz via Stern, Chick, etc (as I was when I first got the album at 16) will probably not "get it" first time out; conversely, close listening will speed that transition
* Again, it is a very quiet album--indeed, perhaps this is my biggest complaint; not only is the playing subdued (not a problem), but recording volume is not especially high.

Mike Stern - Standards and Other Songs
Stern is a fusion guitarist, but here turns his attention to jazz standards. This CD shows them played in a way I had never before heard them played on the guitar. His playing is fleet and his lines run nimbly ... there is an irrepressible momentum that makes every bar compelling and propels the music onward. There is great subtlety of dynamic control too, and beauty in the tracks 'Circles' and 'Peace'. (His tone is lightly chorussed, an effect that usually does not appeal to me, but in Stern's handsk it fits perfectly - he has made this sound his own.) It changed forever my way of thinking about jazz guitar: here are standards, played in a non-standard way, with virutosity and without cliche. A totally fresh and essential jazz guitar album.

Guitarist Mike Stern, who has earned accolades and awards for playing high-energy rock-oriented fusion on albums such as "Give And Take" and "Play", did an about-face in 1992 by releasing a CD of. jazz/bebop standards. Standards (And Other Songs) also includes three original numbers (the 'other songs'), but for the most part, Stern uses a lightly-chorused, clean guitar sound on such classics as Miles Davis' "Nardis" and "Jean Pierre", John Coltrane's "Moment's Notice", Chick Corea's "Windows" and Thelonius Monk's "Straight No Chaser". Stern recruited a number of more-than-able musicians to accompany him through the adventurous material, including trumpeter Randy Brecker, sax man Bob Berg, and keyboardist/producer Gil Goldstein. Standards (And Other Songs) may have received little fanfare upon its initial release, but it is a CD well worth acquiring for a fresh, virtuosic and guitaristic spin on these compositions.

Track listing:

06:37     Like Someone In Love   
01:49     Source   
09:12     There Is No Greater Love    
05:46     L Bird    
04:40     Moment's Notice   
06:47     Lost Time  
06:29     Windows   
05:26     Straight No Chaser   
05:17     Peace    
01:44     Jean Pierre   
07:37     Nardis    


Mike Stern      -      Guitar
Al Foster      -      Drums
Jay Anderson      -      Acoustic Bass
Ben Perowsky      -      Drums ("Lost Time" and "Nardis")
Larry Grenadier      -      Acoustic Bass ("Lost Time" and "Nardis")
Randy Brecker      -      Trumpet
Bob Berg      -      Saxophone
Gil Goldstein      -      Keyboards, Production

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