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Jazz Notes: Guitar Legend Mike Stern’s Latest Album ‘Trip’ Takes Us On a Thrilling Ride

By Denin Koch, Contributing Writer, August 29, 2017

Mike Stern has never been one to take himself too seriously but has also always put out seriously good music. Never has this paradox been more apparent than with his latest effort, Trip, released on the Heads Up imprint of Concord Records. Named for an accident that hospitalized Stern with two broken arms and nerve damage in his right hand in 2016, the guitarist’s newest release runs the gamut from fusion to hard bop and showcases some of Stern’s best fretwork yet. Trip manages to find a unique balance between mind-bending improvisation and tongue-in-cheek moments, and the result is an excellent album that can best be described as simply fun.

Stern wastes no time in storming out of the gate. The opening track (also the title track) is a Brecker-esque groove from bassist Victor Wooten and drummer Dennis Chambers that slams on the gas pedal from the start and doesn’t let up. Stern’s solo here is among the best on the album. It begins with a brilliant guitar break and sails to a searing climax. Trumpeter Randy Brecker appears on several tracks, most notably with an excellent solo spot on “Blueprint.” Stern plays a beautiful nylon string on the tender “Gone,” a welcome break from the intensity of the tracks before. While the album certainly falls into the category of contemporary jazz, there are nods to the jazz tradition all over the album. “Half Crazy” is based on the ubiquitous “I Got Rhythm” chord changes; “Scotch Tape and Glue” steals the chord changes of “On Green Dolphin Street”; and “B Train” is a clear nod to the Ellington favorite “Take the A Train.” Perhaps the most telling detail of this album’s craftsmanship is the sheer number of guests that appear on it. Eighteen different musicians (not including Stern) appear on the album, all clearly put in roles where they can best serve the music.

Trip reaffirms Stern’s position as one of the modern torchbearers of jazz guitar and is a thrilling new addition to the guitarist’s already impressive catalog. Even with age and after injury, Stern still plays with fluidity and fury unlike any other guitarist on the scene.

Rating: 8/10

Highlights: “Trip,” “Gone,” “Half Crazy”

Release date: September 8, 2017; to order or download click here.


Cover: Mike Stern; photo: Sandrine Lee.


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