"IS WHAT IT IS" was nominated for Best Contemporary Jazz Performance in the 37th Annual Grammy Awards.
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.
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...
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.
06:36 A Little Luck
06:20 What I Meant To Say
04:32 Believe It
05:32 Wherever You Are
06:10 Ha Ha Hotel
05:44 55 Dive
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
Rushed out in 1970 as a way to bide time as the Who toiled away on their follow-up to Tommy, Live at Leeds wasn't intended to be the definitive Who live album, and many collectors maintain that the band had better shows available on bootlegs. But those shows weren't easily available whereas Live at Leeds was, and even if this show may not have been the absolute best, it's so damn close to it that it would be impossible for anybody but aficionados to argue. Here, the Who sound vicious -- as heavy as Led Zeppelin but twice as volatile -- as they careen through early classics with the confidence of a band that had finally achieved acclaim but had yet to become preoccupied with making art. In that regard, this recording -- in its many different forms -- may have been perfectly timed in terms of capturing the band at a pivotal moment in its history.
There is certainly no better record of how this band
was a volcano of violence on-stage, teetering on the edge of chaos but
never blowing apart. This was most true on the original LP, which was a
trim six tracks, three of them covers ("Young Man Blues," "Summertime
Blues," "Shakin' All Over") and three originals from the mid-'60s, two
of those ("Substitute," "My Generation") vintage parts of their
repertory and only "Magic Bus" representing anything resembling a recent
original, with none bearing a trace of their mod roots. This was pure,
distilled power, all the better for its brevity; throughout the '70s the
album was seen as one of the gold standards in live rock & roll,
and certainly it had a fury that no proper Who
studio album achieved. It was also notable as one of the earliest
legitimate albums to implicitly acknowledge -- and go head to head with
-- the existence of bootleg LPs. Indeed, its very existence owed
something to the efforts of Pete Townshend and company to stymie the bootleggers.
The Who had made extensive recordings of
performances along their 1969 tour, with the intention of preparing a
live album from that material, but they recognized when it was over that
none of them had the time or patience to go through the many dozens of
hours of live performances in order to sort out what to use for the
proposed album. According to one account, the band destroyed those tapes
in a massive bonfire, so that none of the material would ever surface
without permission. They then decided to go to the other extreme in
preparing a live album, scheduling this concert at Leeds University and
arranging the taping, determined to do enough that was worthwhile at the
one show. As it turned out, even here they generated an embarrassment
of riches -- the band did all of Tommy,
as audiences of the time would have expected (and, indeed, demanded),
but as the opera was already starting to feel like an albatross hanging
around the collective neck of the band (and especially Townshend),
they opted to leave out any part of their most famous work apart from a
few instrumental strains in one of the jams. Instead, the original LP
was limited to the six tracks named, and that was more than fine as far
as anyone cared.
And fans who bought the LP got a package of extra
treats for their money. The album's plain brown sleeve was, itself, a
nod and nudge to the bootleggers, resembling the packaging of such early
underground LP classics as the Bob Dylan Great White Wonder set and the Rolling Stones concert bootleg Liver Than You'll Ever Be, from the latter group's 1969 tour -- and it was a sign of just how far the Who had come in just two years that they could possibly (and correctly) equate interest in their work as being on a par with Dylan and the Stones. But Live at Leeds'
jacket was a fold-out sleeve with a pocket that contained a package of
memorabilia associated with the band, including a really cool poster,
copies of early contracts, etc. It was, along with Tommy,
the first truly good job of packaging for this band ever to come from
Decca Records; the label even chose to forgo the presence of its rainbow
logo, carrying the bootleg pose to the plain label and handwritten song
titles, and the note about not correcting the clicks and pops. At the
time, you just bought this as a fan, but looking back 30 or 40 years on,
those now seem to be quietly heady days for the band (and for fans who
had supported them for years), finally seeing the music world and
millions of listeners catch up.
If there was any doubt that the Who were one of the most ferocious live acts on the planet at the start of the ‘70s, Live at Leeds quashed it. They released the album on May 16, 1970.
The concert came about as somewhat of an afterthought. They had finally achieved mainstream success with Tommy the previous year and had hoped to compile a live album made from the many dates they recorded. But Pete Townshend decided he didn’t want to go through the hassle of determining which versions were the best and had his sound man Bob Pridden burn the tapes.
Instead, the Who booked two shows, one at the University of Leeds for Feb. 14 and a second in Hull the next day, and would choose the songs from there. Unfortunately, there were technical problems with the Hull recording — John Entwistle’s bass was inaudible on the first six songs — and they were forced to use just the one concert.
Thankfully, the tapes caught the Who at their absolute best. The original release clocked in at just under 38 minutes and featured only seven songs. Perhaps as an indication of how tired the band was by this point with their new opus, material from Tommy was conspicuous by its absence, even though it was performed in its entirety during the show. In its place was a depiction of the Who’s versatility. They could slam home “Substitute” in a little over two minutes or go into a deep blues exploration on “My Generation” for nearly 15 minutes. Their cover of Eddie Cochran’s “Summertime Blues” cracked the Top 30 in both the U.S. and the U.K.
Subsequent reissues of Live at Leeds, however, have only added to its legend, allowing listeners to hear the entire concert — which included not just the Tommy portion, but a thunderous “Heaven and Hell,” a cover of Benny Spellman’s Allen Toussaint-penned “Fortune Teller” and the somewhat obscure “Tattoo.” The 2010 40th anniversary box set saw the Hull night finally released, with Entwistle’s bass from the Leeds show overdubbed on the songs where it had not been recorded.
1. "Heaven and Hell" (John Entwistle) 4:49
2. "I Can't Explain" (Townshend) 2:58
3. "Fortune Teller" (Naomi Neville) 2:34
4. "Tattoo" (Townshend) 3:42
5. "Young Man Blues" 5:51
6. "Substitute" 2:07
7. "Happy Jack" (Townshend) 2:13
8. "I'm a Boy" (Townshend) 4:41
9. "A Quick One, While He's Away" (Townshend) 8:41
10. "Amazing Journey/Sparks" (Townshend) 7:54
11. "Summertime Blues" 3:22
12. "Shakin' All Over" 4:34
13. "My Generation" 15:46
14. "Magic Bus" 7:48
- Roger Daltrey / lead vocals, harmonica, tambourine
- Pete Townshend / guitar, vocals
- John Entwistle / bass guitar, vocals
- Keith Moon / drums, vocals