I am now back to going to shows after about 6 weeks of IR and I'm still not in the groove yet, especially because I am not able to partake in my usual "performance enhancers" so my take on the shows I saw is a bit off, but I will adjust.
I had heard of Mike Stern but never knew anything about him; I went mostly because I was already in town and I've been wanting to get to the new SF Yoshi's.
Man, have I been missing the boat on Stern! He and his group were a blast, everyone ripping all around and Richard Bona on bass just jaw-dropping good..... a TRULY amazing player.
Stern's sound was very reminiscent of Pat Metheny to me, airy and jazzy clean, but his playing was more rockin' with a funky edge, and the guy has MAJOR chops. I don't know how I could have been missing out on this guy, he's been around a long time, plays with all the best people and his style is upbeat, rockin' fusion, all things I traditionally love, but whatever, it's always cool to discover "new" talent.
His band had the AMAZING Bona on bass, Dennis Chambers on drums and Bob Francescini on sax. ALL of them were excellent top line players, but jeez, that Richard Bona...... he was just beyond good.
From what little I knew about Bona I was expecting a Jaco, Victor Wooten style; very over-the-top out-front type playing, which is not my favorite style of bass playing. In general I feel that the bass & drums are rhythm instuments and are best when they are playing WITH the band, not ABOVE the band; it's just my taste, I'm always blown away by Joco type players, I just don't prefer them.
But Bona was BOTH, ripping away AND totally with the band, with the emphasis always on being IN THE GROOVE. He fit into everything the band did, a constant focal point while never being distracting to the lead players. Just great.
Stern was ripping everything, his sax player was right there with him (they've played together for a while and it's easy to hear their easy connection) and Chambers was right with them every step of the way.
A groovy, funky electric jazz group with top-notch players..... this is what they built the place for!
As for the venue, I wasn't overly impressed. I guess because I've known about it coming for quite a while, along with the hoopla surrounding its opening lately, I was expecting a bit more.
It's really fine overall, just not very distinctive or "warm", and considering the small capacity it didn't feel very intimate.
The main issue for me is the sense of intimacy, or lack of it. The room has a small balconey, so the ceiling is very high for such a small club, and that is what I felt was off. That, along with the width of the room makes the place feel bigger than really it is, and that's too bad for this type of venue.
The sound also seemed very "amplified" but that could be because the group was electric, so it's hard to say, but high ceilings and acoustic jazz usually don't mix too well.
The other problem I had was minor, but the dance floor takes up most of the main room, which will be great for dancing events, but the "rake" of the room felt flat, and I was happy to be sitting in the back where I could see over heads.
Overall it's a new, small room that is bringing in the best players in the world and there's nothing wrong with that, but I really like the Oakland venue better.
But whichever venue, the next time Mike Stern is playing I'm THERE!
Nice review, Lance.
My first (and only) Mike Stern show was at the Harmony Fest (Santa Rosa) in early June of this year, and my reaction was very similar to yours. I was totally blown away by his musicianship, his ability to jam in a wide variety of styles, and his overall exuberance while onstage. When I saw him, he first sat in with New Monsoon, then headed his own band (with Victor Wooten and Dennis Chambers; Kimock also sat in briefly), then he sat in with ALO. Un-frickin-believable -- Mike's appearances were definitely the highlight of that festie. I'd go see him again in a heartbeat.
Lance, glad you are up and about and back to hitting shows. Great review, and I look forward to reading more from you.
I saw the same New Monsoon/Mike Stern set as Gary, it wasn't bad by any means, but not my taste. I got a (Jeff) Beck-esque kinda vibe from Stern, definitely a talent...just not my thing.
Yeah, nice review. I was at the last show, the Saturday night late show, and it was pretty hot. However, forgetting the venue for the moment, I'd seen Stern with this band around a year ago at the Oakland club and it seemed like they played just about the exact same set. It's somewhat surprising with the amount of material Mike Stern must have to choose from that the sets would end up being that similar. Still, can't really complain about the quality of the music (the Oakland set seemed about 20-30 minutes longer, though).
The first couple of songs ("Tumble Home" and perhaps "KT" - looking at a review from the Wed. show) were definitely ones Stern played with this band the last time I saw them - and it's understandable why he plays them now - they rip! The first one's an upbeat, fusion blazer, while the 2nd is a more laid-back, jazzy groove. Obviously, the band has to play the couple of songs that feature Richard Bona, and he seemed even better to me this time around. I really agreed with your assessment of his playing as I'm a huge Victor Wooten fan, but Bona does seem to be a little less of a show-off (well, Victor can't help it - he's that good) and did really fit in well into the whole scheme of the band. The song/solo with the vocal looping that he does, while maybe not 100% original, was excellent (saw this in Oakland too, of course). Bona's voice and African vocals are so mellifluous (just checked on Wikipedia, and Bona's from Cameroon) that it really stands out. I definitely gained a greater appreciation for his playing during this set (by the way, it appears he used to play with the Pat Metheny Group). He's all over the bass lines without stepping all over the rest of the band. Great variety of techniques as well.
Chambers is sick, what else can you say? However, he didn't actually go off on an extended solo during this set, so I was a little let down by that (he did squeeze off a couple of great mini-solos, one of which goes on while Stern and Bona are vamping the rhythms over his rolls). I love the way the guy can play without ever looking at his drum kit and blow just about everyone off the planet. Didn't get one of his classic one-handed solos, though.
Francescini is a great musician, as well. He definitely shined during this set. He's also so nonchalant, but can really wail when called for. He also played some really sweet, emotional solo on one of the later tunes, and pretty much stole that number. He and Stern are clearly in synch at all times and it's really fun to watch them, as they're so clued in to each other's moves.
And, Stern, well...the guy is just so ridiculously awesome it hurts. Sometimes he starts to sound a wee bit repetitive, but then he just goes off on some solo using whatever unbelievable modes he plays in (shit, can I learn these?) and your jaw just drops. It's so effortless. Plus, he uses so little in the way of effects - he's got that beautiful clean, jazzy, chorusey sound, and then he kicks in the little bit of distortion, twists the volume knob up, and just kicks your ass! Would've loved to have been into Miles during the time that he was in that band. To think Miles had both him and Scofield at the same time - that must've been a blast.
Finally, I thought the venue was fine. Yeah, maybe it's not totally intimate and warm, but the sound was mainly great (thought the sax was actually mixed a bit loud at moments), the layout worked well (for 4 chairs at a small table, it actually seemed pretty roomy), and the service was good (unlike Emily's review of the Charlie Hunter show). I think the club has somewhat got their shit together, as I really couldn't have complained. The show started within 10-15 minutes of the 10:00 start time, the servers were very prompt and quiet (barely noticed them), and the check came at the right time. Yeah, Yoshi's has a bit of a snooty feel, but that's what you get when you're a jazz club that features the very best names in the world of jazz (and sushi!).
Wow, great review Alex.
It's funny, I just got back from seeing the Spanish Harlem Orchestra at Oakland Yoshi's and again thought that the Oakland venue is much better.
There is really nothing wrong with the new one, I'm just picky and a bit of a snob when it comes to venues and I've been looking forward to this one for a while.
It's mainly the high ceiling that bothered me if anything did; the place reminded me more of a small auditorium than a club, but I'm sure I'll grow to like it, or love it, as I see more shows there.
But if the same group is playing both venues I'll still choose Oakland first.
Ultimately the Kuumbwa in Santa Cruz blows both of them away! (So does the Bach Dancing & Dynamite Society in Half Moon Bay, but that place rarely gets the major players)
On three consecutive Mondays in January the Kuumbwa has Pharoah Sanders, Roy Hargrove & Bill Frisell, in a room a third the size of either Yoshi's. If you're in the 6th row at the K. you're in the back row!
I'm ashamed to say this, but, even having gone to college at UCSC (graduated in '84), I've never actually been to the Kuumbwa in Santa Cruz. I don't think I was that into the shows that they had there during my college days (though I assume I just wasn't paying enough attention), but definitely should have made it there for at least some show since then. I know Kuumbwa gets some awesome artists, so I'm probably due to make the trek down there for a show one of these days.
And, yes, I do see your point about the high ceiling at the SF venue. Unfortunately, I guess that's the price one pays for having a balcony in the club.
Thanks for the reviews. I first saw Stern back in '80 in Miles Davis' band.
Then it wasn't again until a buddy encouraged me to see a one-off all star group of Mike Stern, John Patitucci, Danillo Perez and Teri Lynne Carrington. I was blown away!
Then I saw Mike Stern's band a year later @ the Regattabar and the set was quite similar. But, what can you say when he plays so damn good?
I've been dying to get another chance since then
I saw Richard Bona once as the percussionist for Pat Metheny. Then he cam out for one song with Pat on bass. It was a real old song where he was filling shoes originally worn by Jaco. And he did it well.
Stern played Logan, UT a few years ago, but, I was out of town at the time.
It does't seem like he hits very many markets.