Mike Stern: Voices (2001)
Mike Stern voyages around the musical world, taking many crib notes. Stern has been one of the foremost guitarists in fusion since his service with Miles Davis in the 80s, and with each album his musicianship and compositional sensibilities grow more appealing. This album ventures further from mainstream jazz than is usual for Stern, as he dives headfirst into world-music fusion with appealing results.
On first listen, Voices is highly evocative of the Pat Metheny Group, due largely to some of Stern’s guitar tones, the songs’ atmospheric textures, and the uplifting vocals of Richard Bona, Philip Hamilton and Elizabeth Kontomanou. Eventually, however, Stern’s own personality as a guitarist and composer emerges and the Metheny comparison becomes moot. His fleet single-line soloing on “One World” recalls his best work with Miles Davis in the 80s. Kontomanou and Bona are great assets on that particular track, their vocals positively life-affirming. On tunes like “Slow Change”, the guitarist’s tone gets so close to Kontomanou’s vocal pitch that his lines come off as a seamless extension of her singing. The exchanges between Kontomanou and Hamilton on “Leni’s Smile”, dedicated to Stern’s wife, are warm and wonderful.
One aspect of this disc which sets it apart from so much other world-fusion is that the drums and percussion generally take a back seat to everything else. Not that Vinnie Colaiuta and Dennis Chambers become anonymous; they simply stick to the rhythmic function instead of poking their heads out front as many “world music” drummers are required to do. Jim Beard’s airy keyboard timbres tend towards the smooth at times, but usually this isn’t a hindrance to the music’s drive. Saxophonist Bob Franceschini appears on three tracks, and his cool contribution to “Still There” brings to mind Jan Garbarek with Keith Jarrett’s quartet. The most exotic moments come in the final track, “Way Out East”, which gives Turkish percussionist/vocalist Arto Tuncboyaciyan and guest tenor man Michael Brecker room to wail. All in all, one of Stern’s most consistently intriguing discs to date.
Track Listing: One World; The River; Slow Change; Wishing Well; Still There; Spirit; What Might Have Been; Leni
Personnel: [Collective:] Stern, guitars; Richard Bona, vocals, bass, kalimba; Elizabeth Kontomanou, Philip Hamilton, vocals; Bob Franceschini, saxophone; Lincoln Goines, Chris Minh Doky, bass; John Herington, 12-string guitar; Jim Beard, keyboards; Vinnie Colaiuta, Dennis Chambers, drums; Arto Tuncboyaciyan, percussion.