Having established himself as an imaginative technical wizard in the forefront of the fusion movement during the 1980's, guitarist Mike Stern has left an indelible mark on the way the instrument is utilized in the jazz idiom. But there would be an unforeseen event that would test his physical and emotional will to overcome adversity. In July of 2016 Stern suffered a serious accident when he tripped over construction debris leaving his apartment in New York City. This led to severe fractures in both arms, and critical nerve damage extending to fingers in his right hand. After several operations and intense therapy, he was back on the guitar, and Trip proves he has not lost any of his amazing musical prowess.
Assembling an all-star cast of accompanists, Stern went back into the studio to record his 17th release as leader, and re-affirm his place as a force to be reckoned with. The title track opens with Stern's signature blazing riffs bouncing off the bedrock foundation consisting of Victor Wooten on bass and Dennis Chambers on drums. The perennial Miles Davis influence is revived on "Blueprint," which features Randy Brecker on trumpet, and Jim Beard on organ and keys. Beard plays keyboards throughout, and also produced the project, as he has so many of Stern's previous endeavors. "Hope For That," has long-time friend and drummer, Dave Weckl sitting in, who possibly knows Stern's music better than anyone, and can accent the changes with a refined brilliance
The music takes a traditional swing orientation on "Half Crazy," that brings in Lenny White on drums, bassist Teymur Phell, and Bill Evans on tenor. White and Phell are part of his working band, and the musical interconnection is evident. This same lineup and feeling returns on "Scotch Tape and Glue," named after the process Stern created to be able to hold the pick with his right hand after the accident.
Trumpeter Wallace Roney performs on "Screws," a funk-fusion excursion sans bass, opting for an electronic pulse on the lower end. This is pure Stern territory as he takes his Strat into the outer limits, Roney augmenting the amplified tension in the higher registers. They continue with this instrumental arrangement on "B Train," which is a groove injected, spaced-out version of "Take The A Train," Roney again demonstrating why he is one of the premier horn men on the scene. Beard also shows formidable piano chops on this venture, as the song goes through some adventurous straight ahead sections.
Stern exposes his sensitive side with the acoustical, "Gone," presenting his dexterity on the nylon six string. His wife Leni Stern, plays the African three stringed ngoni on "Amelia," which has vocalist Gio Moratti joining Stern in singing, in what might sound like an unusual format for Stern, as he is identified with his powerful electric persona. Leni reappears on "I Believe You," that has drummer Will Calhoun and bassist Edmond Gilmore adding their talents to this uplifting ballad.
Though Trip stands on its own merits as a quality Stern recording, with the back story concerning the accident, it represents an artist with an unwavering sense of purpose. Stern accepted the arduous medical situation he was confronting, and was steadfast in his belief that he would endure and overcome, with his guitar abilities intact. This is a testament to that.
Trip; Blueprint; Half Crazy; Screws; Gone; Whatchacallit; Emilia; Hope
For That; I Believe You; Scotch Tape and Glue; B Train.
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