Snow was coming down hard in midtown Manhattan on Tuesday night, January 27th one of those notorious Nor'easter's but that didn't deter my son Daniel and I from making our way to the Iridium Jazz Club (www.iridiumjazzclub.com) to catch the Mike Stern Band. Iridium is a comfortable but intimate venue just north of Times Square on Broadway. The club features great food and drinks, cozy lighting, excellent service and a top notch sound system.
As he approached the stage, Mike seemed genuinely surprised that so many of us had shown up. He flashed that big smile of his and sincerely thanked us all for braving the elements. We felt welcomed. Mike brought along a couple of musicians from his brand new CD, These Times
: Bob Franceschini on Tenor Sax and Richard Bona on bass and vocals. Dave Weckl rounded out the quartet on drums.
The set started out with a whisper, each member of the band playing quietly off a groove set up by the light, jagged strumming of Stern's guitar. The amps were turned way down, and drummer Dave Weckl displayed a delicate touch with his brushes the elaborate drum set with double bass drums and too many cymbals to count being used sparingly (for now, anyway). Bassist Richard Bona locked in with some precisely placed syncopated notes while tenor saxophonist Bob Franceschini swirled long tones through the air, adding a melodic touch to the sparse interplay. It wasn't long, though, before the volume and intensity was cranked up. Stern, Weckl and Bona jammed like a power trio and Franceschini would dive in and take it all up a sonic notch or two with his hard bop tenor style, also joining in for some catchy unison ensemble lines with Stern’s guitar and Bona’s vocals. The band rode a roller coaster ride of dynamics throughout the course of the set, and their mutual admiration for one another was clearly evident. Richard Bona’s trademark angelic-like wordless vocals added a texture that only he can provide.
Mike Stern's guitar prowess first came to prominence when he joined Blood, Sweat and Tears at age 22. He went on to work with the elite of 80's fusion artists including Billy Cobham, Miles Davis, Jaco Pastorius and the Brecker Brothers. These Times
is his 12th date as a leader. He has received three Grammy nominations along the way, most recently for his 2001 release, Voices
. Mike Stern's set at Iridium demonstrated why he is one of the premier guitarists of his generation.
Visit Mike Stern on the web at www.mikestern.org .