By Cynthia Mullis

Jazz Alley, Thursday Night Dec. 6th
Mike Stern – guitar
Bob Franceschini – tenor sax
Anthony Jackson – electric bass
Dave Weckl – drums

If you are a fan of the guitar hero musical aesthetic, head over to Jazz Alley this weekend to catch the pyrotechnics of the Mike Stern Band. I really dig his guitar playing and this was a night of excellent chops, high level musicianship and no surprises, promoting his new release “Who Let the Cats Out?” Mike Stern was in prime form with his intricate lines of running notes, funky chords and bouncing right leg. The band is full of intense playing all around and it will be a satisfying night of music if you are in the mood for the full-on jazz version of rocking out.

photo by Carolyn Caster

Maybe I’m getting old (or maybe it was that I made the mistake of listening to John Scofield’s “Hand Jive” CD earlier in the day) but I felt a little cranky at the beginning of the set. Stern’s first solo was an onslaught of “deedle-leedle-leedle-leedle” phrasing. The volume was up loud, although admittedly that is the fun of Stern’s Telecaster channeled through two big Fender Twin Reverbs. Throughout the night the band made an admirable exploration of the fortissimo dynamic range, all in the quest to “be intense.”

Bob Franceschini contributed to the relentlessness with his post-Coltrane Breckerisms. (God bless Michael Brecker—rest in peace—but I think it’s time to retire his jersey and call a moratorium on Brecker licks.) Franceschini is an excellent saxophonist but I felt like I’ve heard everything he played before in dozens of other similarly influenced saxophonists.

Things settled into a more relaxed groove by the third tune. Then a beautiful acapella guitar solo filled with a dreamy chorus/reverb sound lead into a Mike Stern ballad. At this tempo, the sixteenth notes unfolded into earthy melodic lines laced with blues riffs and floaty arpeggios. The fifth tune ramped back up into another eighth-note melody line. This tune had a seriously funky groove that emanated from Anthony Jackson’s six-string electric bass. He is a bad-ass and he alone is worth the price of admission. I thought some of the best moments of the night occurred between Jackson and Stern.

Dave Weckl was on drums—he is a powerful drummer and a perfect fit for the group. As impressive as he is, I have a hard time getting past his mechanical precision and he leaves me cold. I do predict however, that someday he will become governor of California after a successful career in movies as “The Druminator.”

By the time the encore closed out the night, I was feeling better and was absorbed in the music. My tastes might be changing away from the muscular chops-flexing style of music this band played, but I still enjoy listening to Mike Stern play guitar. If you’re in the mood for quiet contemplation, go elsewhere. If you want to hear some powerhouse playing, go hear Mike Stern at Jazz Alley this weekend.

Jazz Alley, Review