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Mike Stern could be a bass players favorite band leader. He constantly surrounds himself with New York City’s best bassists including Richard Bona, Janek Gwizdala, Lincoln Goines, Victor Wooten and, for this DVD, Tom Kennedy. Tom is paired with his long time partner in crime Dave Weckl on the drums, and this duo does not disappoint. Also joining the band is saxophonist Bob Franceschini, a long time band mate of Mike. This is Mike’s second live DVD filmed at The New Morning in Paris, and it is apparent that Mike really enjoys performing at this stellar venue.
The band opens the concert with a bang, performing Mike’s tune “Tumble Home”. They don’t waste anytime in getting down to business, grooving in full force right out of the gates (Ex.1). The head of the tune is full of twists and turns, and then eases into a light jazz walking feel for solos on a C minor blues. Tom showcases his ability to swing with an upright sensibility on the electric bass. His lines are a thing of beauty, chock full of pedal tones, pull offs, triplet fills and sophisticated harmonic movement. After fulfilling the accompanist role, Tom gives the audience a taste of his incredible solo chops. Check out the introduction he uses in his first two choruses, before he jumps into bebop mode (Ex. 2)
The next number is an easy grooving song entitled “KT”. It features Tom and Dave in a much more subdued context than the previous number. The groove is airtight and takes on a quasi-reggae feel for the soloists. Dave gets his chance to play over a slick bass/guitar unison vamp before they take the tune out (Ex. 3).
“Wishing Well” originally appeared on Mike’s 2001 release “Voices”. This song has folk like qualities and features some very nice upper register playing by Tom under the melody. He uses a unique percussive muting technique to give his lines a kalimba timbre. The rhythm section really picks up steam under Bob’s sax solo. Tom and Dave lock into a double time groove while Mike strums a series of chords with changing root movement but ostinato upper chord tones (Ex. 4). It is truly inspiring to watch musicians of this caliber play so fluently and naturally over such a beautifully written song.
The next song the group performs is also from the aforementioned album “Voices”. It is a ballad entitled “What Might Have Been”. Mike starts the song of with an extended introduction, accompanied only by Dave’s hand drumming. I have heard many drummers use this technique before but none so convincingly as Dave Weckl. Tom is given a chance to take the soloist spotlight again on this haunting ballad. His solo is a prime example of how to solo over a ballad in a disciplined and mature fashion (Ex. 5).
The band completely changes direction for the next song, “Chatter”. The song opens with some collective improvisation from the four members, with Tom playing some funky sixteenth note lines. The tune gets even more interesting from then on, devolving into an open free jazz section and then into the main form. Tom is playing the entire range of his bass under the melody; playing chords, twisting melodic lines, and in the pocket grooves. (Ex. 6).
Next on the program is the song “That’s All It Is”. It is a medium tempo song that features some great solo trading between Mike and Bob. Tom and Dave get a chance to shine as a team after the guitar/sax trading. They are both playing a lot of lines and fills but never lose the pocket and are always locked into the backbeat. Bob and Mike take the melody of the tune out and even sneak in a “Jean Pierre” quote, which garners applause from the audience.
The program once again slows down for another beautiful ballad titled “Wing and A Prayer”. This song originally appeared on Mike’s album “Between the Lines”. It features great brush work from Dave as well as some wonderful soloing from both Mike and Bob.
The band closes out the show with a bang playing one of my favorite Stern compositions “Chromazone”. Mike and Tom play the funky intro groove in unison before Mike departs to play the melody with Bob (Ex. 7). The melody is full of chromatic twists and turns, hence the title of the song. Dave and Tom are rhythmically locked in the entire song, showing why they are one of the best one-two punches in the business. Dave gets a chance to showcase his solo chops over a another vamp before the band takes the tune out and closes the show with a true rock’n’roll ending.
The DVD also features bonus behind the scenes footage of the band soundchecking, as well as interviews with Mike about each member of this killer band.
The entire DVD was shot in HD and is crystal clear in both audio and video quality. A personal note; it is very nice to see shots of a young, hip and enthusiastic audience in a jazz club. The venue is so full that there are actually audience members sitting on the floor in the rows between the seats.
Mike Stern is one of the premier guitarists around the jazz scene today. His playing and writing are a refreshing blend of many influences that combine to create a exciting and always interesting live performance. This DVD is a shining example of why Mike Stern will always be considered one of jazz’s all time greats.
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