Mike Stern: Trip
You have to know the backstory to understand where Mike Stern is coming from here. While waiting for a cab in New York City he tripped—literally, on some construction debris—and broke both arms. It took a couple of surgeries and a good amount of time before he was able to play guitar again—and, even then, he had to do so seated, his hand taped to the pick. Now that you know all that, the next important thing to consider is that you’d never guess he’d been through such hell if no one had told you. The music on Trip is as fluid and exhilarating as any that Stern has made before. Working with a large cast of core accompanists and guest players, Stern rips, soothes, cajoles and teases as required—his playing is never less than on-point, stripped of excess and cliché. The opening title track is classic fusion, an exercise in how to display virtuosity without being obnoxious about it. Bob Franceschini’s tenor saxophone solo is muscular and funked-up, and the rhythm section of Victor Wooten on bass and Dennis Chambers on drums burns hot. “Scotch Tape and Glue” (what Stern used to keep the pick in place) brings in drummer Lenny White and saxophonist Bill Evans to keep things swinging and, on the ballad “Gone,” Stern hauls out the acoustic, engaging in empathic interplay with Jim Beard, who’s superb on piano throughout the recording while doubling as producer.