Tuesday, July 3, 2018

Mike Stern - 1996 "Between The Lines"

Mike Stern does what he does very, very well. He has carved out a unique niche for himself among modern fusion guitarists, a vision that combines funk and R&B bass/drum grooves with skittish melodies often involving extended chord fragments. Stern's lead voice is one of the most distinctive in the genre as well, as his chorused and sometimes distorted tone is always prominently displayed. Stern is joined on this 1996 offering by frequent collaborator Bob Malach, a tenor player with a particular talent for laying screaming lines on top of smoking drum grooves as well as ably doubling and bringing to life Stern's often bookish and theoretical melodies. Completing the band are twin rhythm sections, consisting either of Dave Weckl and Jeff Andrews or Lincoln Goines and Dennis Chambers. Like many of Stern's recordings, the problems lie generally in the sameness of the arrangements and the relatively forgettable nature of some of these songs. Although they are all thoughtfully composed, they sometimes tend to run together a bit in the mind of the listener. Jim Beard's keyboard textures also could be done without, as they add a distracting sheen to the compositions. But there has always been this sort of tension in Stern's work between the obvious and the unexpected. Take, for example, "Lose the Suit," which features an extremely funky intro and a great Stern solo, as well as an extremely predictable bridge that almost sounds as if it could be the theme song to a long-running soap opera. Any lingering sense of treacle is dispelled once Stern kicks in the fuzz, however, and lays into the track, sure to please fans.

Let's establish one thing from the start: Mike Stern is one of the greatest jazz guitarists of our time. He is unique stylistically, musically, and technically. By the time this CD was released, Stern had enjoyed ten years of both critical and commercial recording success. What sets this one apart for me is the basic band used for the sessions: Dave Weckl on drums, Jeff Andrews on bass, Jim Beard on keyboards (who also serves as producer on this and many other Mike Stern projects), and Bob Malach on tenor saxophone. As usual, all songs are written by Mike Stern with a reasonable balance of up- and down-tempo grooves.

This CD features outstanding recording quality throughout. Nearly every solo, whether it be guitar or sax, is a tour de force. There's only one track I really don't like, and that's the last one (Bait Tone Blues). The set begins with the driving latin/rock groove of Sunnyside. Checkout Dave Weckl's slick stick work on The Vine. Wing And A Prayer is a nice ballad with a beautiful melody (doubled on sax and guitar). You Never Know alternates between a hard-driving rock and laid-back blues groove. The next two cuts (numbers 6 & 7) are the only two featuring an alternate (but equally impressive) rhythm section: the great Dennis Chambers on drums and Lincoln Goines on bass. Both are long-time Mike Stern sidemen. Tell Me may be one of my all-time favorite Mike Stern ballads, and With A Twist features an interesting drum groove along with some nice organ work. Back to the original band, Pages is on my all-time favorite Mike Stern playlist, and I can never get enough of the out-chorus sax solo. Also, the interplay between electric guitar and acoustic piano is special. As you can guess, this is an outstanding set of music, top to (almost) bottom!

While I like virtually all of Mike Stern's work, I think this is (narrowly) his best CD from the 1990's. The band, writing, and production quality are all first-rate, and there's over 70 minutes of music on the CD! You can't go wrong with this one, so put it on, sit back, and enjoy some great fusion jazz.

On "Between The Lines", Mike Stern's follow-up to his Grammy-nominated "Is What It Is", Stern delivers more of his trademark bop 'n' roll on ten new original compositions. The band includes saxophonist Bob Malach (Steve Miller, Ben Sidran, Horace Silver), longtime bass associate Jeff Andrews (Steps Ahead, Vital Information) and world renowned drummer Dave Weckl (Chick Corea Elektric/Akoustic Band, Brecker Brothers). Stern's former rhythm section mates in the Mike Stern-Bob Berg Band, drummer Dennis Chambers and bassist Lincoln Goines, also appear on two tracks. From the energetic opener "Sunnyside" to the slamming funk of "Lose the Suit" to the ferocious "With a Twist", Stern and company state their case with power and conviction. "The idea behind this record was to use guys that I had been touring with a lot", Stern explained. "I wanted a live band sound and I feel like that came across. I felt good about the whole vibe of the record. It's loose but tight at the same time. And there's stuff going on with these cats that can only happen if you've been playing together a bunch." "Between The Lines" is excellent jazz/fusion, and is highly recommended.


Track listing:

1 Sunnyside 7:27
2 The Vine 6:27
3 Wing And A Prayer 6:37
4 Lose The Suit 8:43
5 You Never Know 7:13
6 Tell Me 6:01
7 With A Twist 6:37
8 True Enough 6:43
9 Pages 6:43
10 Bait Tone Blues 7:37


Guitar – Mike Stern
Bass – Jeff Andrews (tracks: 1 to 5, 8 to 10), Lincoln Goines (tracks: 6, 7)
Drums – Dave Weckl (tracks: 1 to 5, 8 to 10), Dennis Chambers (tracks: 6, 7)
Keyboards, Producer, Engineer [Additional] – Jim Beard
Tenor Saxophone – Bob Malach


  1. https://www82.zippyshare.com/v/Cru5D3Ka/file.html

  2. Thank you! Never enough Mike Stern!