Most of Mike Stern's albums have been 100 percent instrumental; as a rule, he doesn't use vocalists because his guitar does all of the "singing." But Voices is an exception -- a highly engaging and memorable exception. This surprising and totally unexpected effort finds a 48-year-old Stern using wordless vocals in a manner that brings to mind fellow fusion guitarists Pat Metheny and Al DiMeola. Think of Metheny on Letter From Home and Still Life (Talking), or DiMeola on Orange and Blue, and one will know the type of approach that Stern is going for this time. While the wordless vocals that Stern uses on Voices add a lot to the album, his guitar is still the focal point. This isn't the type of project in which the leader brings in an acclaimed jazz singer like Dianne Reeves or Kitty Margolis and features her prominently on standards -- that isn't what he was going for. Ultimately, the vocalists who Stern employs (who include Arto Tuncboyaciyan and Elizabeth Kantomanou) are there to serve and compliment his guitar. If Voices were a cake, the vocalists would be the icing; the album still would have been meaningful even without them, but there's no doubt that they add a lot to it. Voices, which contains some of Stern's most lyrical and melodic playing, is full of world music influences. African and Spanish elements are incorporated, and Brazilian music is an especially strong influence. Going back to the Metheny and DiMeola comparisons, this album's world music influences will inevitably inspire comparisons to similar albums by those fellow fusion guitarists. But Stern is always his own man and his guitar playing never fails to sound distinctive -- Voices is most definitely a Mike Stern session. It's also one of the finest albums in his catalog.
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AllMusic Review by Alex Henderson