Mike Stern


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Trip was an album that happened because of Mike Stern's relentless determination to remain Mike Stern. On July 3, 2016, he was hailing a cab when he tripped over some concealed construction debris, broke both arms, and was taken to the hospital. He fractured both humerus bones and was left with significant nerve damage in his right hand, preventing him from accomplishing even the simplest of tasks -- including holding a guitar pick. Following a surgery in which 11 screws were put into his arm, Stern emerged in late October with Chick Corea, playing seated and wearing a black glove outfitted with Velcro attached to a Velcro-fitted pick. A second surgery followed and he gained more control of his nerve-damaged right hand by literally gluing and taping his fingers to a pick. It gradually strengthened his grip, and allowed him to regain his speed and technical precision. The recording of Trip began in January of 2017, six months after the accident. While the title's meaning has a double entendre, some of its song titles -- "Screws," "Scotch Tape and Glue" --also reference his surgical events.

Stern enlisted an all-star cast playing in different configurations, achieving a diversity that even exceeds All Over the Place. The title track with drummer Dennis Chambers, bassist Victor Wooten, keyboardist/album producer Jim Beard, and saxophonist Bob Franceschini is a knotty exercise in rocking jazz-funk fusion with peeling guitar riffs, solos, and fills. There's a Miles Davis lilt to "Blueprint" with Randy Brecker guesting on muted trumpet, while Beard plays B-3 and synths, and Chambers offers his best take on Al Foster. Stern eventually touches on the blues before it winds out. "Half Crazy" is blazing, hard-grooving post-bop, with Beard on piano, swinging tenorist Bill Evans, drummer Lenny White, and Teymur Phell on bass. "Screws" commences slowly and quixotically with Wallace Roney on trumpet and the rest of the rhythm section above, as well as percussionist Arto Tuncboyaciyan. While the melody builds in layers and spirals upwards, Roney and Stern each solo hard, adding limber bluesy funk until they deconstruct it to a fade. Leni Stern adds her ngoni to the West African-tinged "Emilia" with Gio Moretti on wordless vocals hovering above the band's interplay. Stern's ngoni also adds a lithe dimension to the grooving, midtempo ballad "I Believe You." "Hope for That" is another intense, even transcendent fusion jam that bumps into rockist Latin terrain with drummer Dave Weckl driving a mean set of crossbeats. While fleet post-bop governs the hard swinging "Scotch Tape and Glue," with Evans returning on tenor, it is Stern's overdriven playing that sets the tone and controls its flow. Stern even picks up an acoustic guitar for the lovely quartet ballad "Gone," offering a side of himself we seldom hear. Stern may have been proving something to himself on Trip. But what he delivers is a tenacious, heartfelt work of imagination, discipline, technical facility, and pure pleasure.

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