Sunday, January 29, 2017

Mike Stern - 1994 "Is What It Is"

"IS WHAT IT IS" was nominated for Best Contemporary Jazz Performance in the 37th Annual Grammy Awards.
Mike Stern is one of the more creative fusion guitarists, playing with the power of rock but often taking sophisticated improvisations. On this passionate set (which consists of nine of his originals), Stern is joined by the keyboards of Jim Beard, bassist Will Lee, Dennis Chambers or Ben Perowsky on drums and (on three songs apiece) the tenors of Michael Brecker and Bob Malach. Overall this is one of Mike Stern's better recordings.

Reviewer Ries van Schelven writes about guitarist Mike Stern's 1994 release "Is What It Is", "This is, in my opinion, Stern's best solo album. This album is full of jewels. It has a definite jazz/rock sound to it, but has it's pure moments as well. The album starts of with "Swunk", a typical Stern composition featuring Michael Brecker on tenor sax and a kick ass solo. Next, "A Little Luck" which is brilliant guitar work. Then it's ballad time again, "What I Meant To Say", one of my favorites on the album - a soaring melodic piece, showing Mike's brilliance. Then comes some funky stuff on "Showbiz". Listen to the acoustic masterpiece "Wherever You Are", which features Harvie Swartz on the upright acoustic bass. The phrasing is breathtaking. The best piece is "Signs" - this is Mike Stern. The structure of the solo is incredible. It has Mike Stern's signature all over it. I like when he uses his overdrive. It kicks ass! Definitely his best solo album."

At one time swing was just another kind of dance music with a rhythm of utilitarian regularity. It was only in the hands of drummers like Sid Catlett and Sonny Greer that swing acquired enough flexibility to be useful in jazz. Baltimore's Dennis Chambers, a drummer for Parliament-Funkadelic and John Scofield, is now bringing a similar flexibility to another dance music, funk. On Is What It Is, by former Miles Davis guitarist Mike Stern, Chambers proves that funk can be as infinitely variable as swing, and the soloists respond with a rhythmic freedom unusual in fusion.

This is what it is what is it... I mean, this really IS Mike Stern's best work. All tunes are almost great more or less.
"Swunk" is a quite typical Mike Stern rock/fusion tune, "A little luck" is almost beautiful Stern-piece, third song is always ballad "What I meant to say" is however quite boring tune but Tracks 4-8 are just Greats! "Showbiz" is nice funky humorsong and "Believe it" is really good bluestune with very beautiful and tuff solo, "Wherever you are" is ballad again, but much better than "What I meant to say". Nice basswork by Harwie Swartz, "Ha ha hotel" is maybe Stern's best song of this kind. Crazy melody, high tempo, great basslines and realy tuff guitarsolo and saxsolo by Bob Malach. "Signs" is perhaps Mike's best song ever, all Mike's best elements could be heard and guitarsolo is amazing! Melody and bassline are just fine and doesn't need any "specialharmony", great composition! Last song "55 dive" is again more typical jazzypiece but still quite good theme and good solos by Mike and Bob. If you haven't heard this CD yet, I give you just one tip: Buy it today!

How would I advise you to enjoy Is What It Is?... Well... Just relax in an armchair, boost off-limits your fine-tuned stereo set... Program tracks #2, #6, and #8... Close your eyes...
Then feel Mike's music lifting you up gently above the clouds. Imagine you're riding a jet of some supersonic capabilities (but it's really not the point here). Imagine there's a button on the board you may press.
So, wait for Mike's smooth shifts towards pure crystal and aerial sounds he's the only one to reach with the distortion pedal this way... Wait for him to enter the most delicate, the clearest, the richest, and the most powerful solos you'll ever have listened to so far...
Push the button at that time, as Mike invites you to... Lift off to the stratosphere, and ride outer space...
If you loved this journey, turn to Tell Me, and Pages, on Mike's Between The Lines album, and to If You Say So, on Odds Or Evens, and discover what the best jazz-rock guitarist has to offer: the most beautiful aerial music ever.

Track listing:

07:53     Swunk    
06:36     A Little Luck    
06:20     What I Meant To Say    
05:43     Showbiz    
04:32     Believe It    
05:32     Wherever You Are    
06:10     Ha Ha Hotel    
07:48     Signs
05:44     55 Dive    

Personnel:

Mike Stern - Guitar
Michael Brecker - Saxophone
Jim Beard - Synthesizers, Piano, Hammond Organ, Wurlitzer Piano, Production, Additional Engineering
Will Lee - Bass
Dennis Chambers - Drums
Ben Perowsky - Drums
Harvie Swartz - Acoustic Bass
Bob Malach - Saxophone

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