Contemporary Jazz

Won't You Be His Neighbor?

07 AUG 09 JONATHAN WIDRAN

From his breakthrough gig with Blood, Sweat & Tears through his tenures with Miles Davis, Jaco Pastorius and Billy Cobham and his own 25-year solo career, five-time Grammy-nominated guitarist Mike Stern has mastered the art of collaboration that he continues to celebrate on his second Heads Up date Big Neighborhood.

The cool part of his journey is that new neighbors are always moving in. He has a few holdovers from his 2006 label debut Who Let The Cats Out?, including saxman Bob Malach, drummer Dave Weckl and Richard Bona (bringing the wordless vocal joy and the bubbling bass groove to the African flavored "Reach"). For the most part, this is a fresh guest list, with Stern jamming with fellow guitar gods Steve Vai (the blistering, blues-funk title track) and Eric Johnson (the cool and sensual "6th Street"), jamband godfathers Medeski Martin & Wood (the hypnotic, rumbling blues gems "Check One" and "That's All It Is") and, most irresistibly, the tandem of Stern's favorite new discovery, young and astounding bassist/vocalese master Esperanza Spalding and the always inventive drummer Teri Lyne Carrington.

"Coupe De Ville" swings low behind Stern's inventive electric improvisations, while "Song For Pepper" flows exotically on the wings of Spalding's dreamy, soaring voice. What would a high energy block party in a big 'hood be without an old, dear and brilliant friend like trumpeter Randy Brecker dropping by to close the set (on the gracefully rhythmic "Hope You Don't Mind")? Stern, who played with the Brecker Brothers many times over the years, is touring later this year with Randy. Don't miss them.

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