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Reviewers: Tony Augarde [Editor], Steve Arloff, Nick Barnard, Pierre Giroux, Don Mather, Glyn Pursglove, Sam Webster, Jonathan Woolf

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Big Neighborhood

Heads Up HUCD 3157



1. Big Neighborhood
2. 6th Street
3. Reach
4. Song for Pepper
5. Coupe de Ville
6. Bird Blue
7. Moroccan Roll
8. Long Time Gone
9. Check One
10. That's All It Is
11. Hope You Don't Mind

Mike Stern - Guitar
Steve Vai - Guitar, sitar guitar (tracks 1, 7)
Lincoln Goines - Bass (tracks 1, 2, 7, 8)
Jim Beard - Piano, keyboards, Hammond organ (tracks 1-8, 11)
Eric Johnson - Guitar (tracks 2, 8)
Lionel Cordew - Drums (tracks 2, 8)
Richard Bona - Bass, vocals (track 3)
Dave Weckl - Drums (tracks 3, 7)
Bob Franceschini - Sax (track 3)
Esperanza Spalding - Bass, vocals (tracks 4-6)
Terri Lyne Carrington - Drums (tracks 4-6)
Bob Malach - Sax (tracks 5, 9, 10)
John Medeski - Hammond organ, clavinet (tracks 9, 10)
Billy Martin - Drums (tracks 9, 10)
Chris Wood - Electric bass (tracks 9, 10)
Randy Brecker - Trumpet (track 11)
Cindy Blackman - Drums (track 11)
Chris Minh Doky - Bass (track 11)

It all used to be so easy. Categories of music were clearly defined. We knew what jazz was and it was different from rock - at least, until jazz-rock came along. And folk music was something else yet again - until folk-rock entered the scene. World music was yet another separate category - but not any more. Now these various types of music are fusing together to make a rich but complex mixture.

Mike Stern's new album illustrates this very well. It is a savoury smorgasbord of different musical styles. The album opens with what might almost be called heavy metal, as the two guitars of Mike Stern and Steve Vai produce powerful jazz-rock which is at least as rocky as it is jazzy. The sleeve-note rightly points to the influence of the "explosive" Jimi Hendrix on Mike Stern in his formative years.

I6th Street calms things down somewhat, with two guitars clanging less vigorously. Reach adds the wordless vocals of Richard Bona to create an attractive gliding sound, with Mike Stern's guitar flying fluently through the air.

The next three tracks are decorated by the voice of bassist Esperanza Spalding, who adds an ethereal quality to the music. This is augmented by Mike Stern using a Pat Metheny sound on his guitar. While most of the previous tunes have been in jazz-fusion style, Coupe de Ville is a straightforward four-in-a-bar swinger, proving that Stern is basically a jazzman, despite his open-door policy which allows in all kinds of other influences.

That eclecticism is clear in the two tracks with the notoriously off-the-wall trio of Medeski, Martin & Wood. Check One has a rhythmically dislocated rhythm which is close to the boogaloo, with Stern going to town in his guitar solo and Bob Malach entering the spirit with a tenor-sax solo that jumps around puckishly. In this company, Medeski's Hammond organ sounds remarkably conventional. Chris Wood's sturdy double bass underpins That's All It Is, with hints of country music in the melody and the playing.

Bird Blue is a refreshingly slow number, with delicate wordless singing from Esperanza Spalding, while Moroccan Roll has an exotic feel about it, with the guitars of Stern and Vai duelling again in friendly rivalry. Dave Weckl's drums pump away in support. For contrast, Long Time Gone is a fairly placid ballad, although it gradually runs up through the gears with the help of rock guitarist Eric Johnson. A surprise ending is the final track - Hope You Don't Mind - a jaunty piece of easygoing jazz.

As well as playing superbly versatile guitar, Mike Stern wrote all the tunes on this very enjoyable and varied album. As Mike says: "You can find all kinds of things in a big neighborhood...all kinds of different sounds".

Tony Augarde

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