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Portland Jazz Festival: A Celebration of ECM

Richard Bona and Mike Stern

It’s a pity “fusion” has become something of a dirty word to jazz fans and a punch line to music-geek generalists, conjuring mental images of mulleted keytar players soloing to their ego’s desire in a glorious blaze of sweat, silk button-ups and chest hair. The almost athletic display of technical facility is, without a doubt, a major tenant of jazz-rock, but the best groups have always included a good dose of drama and melody in their dog-and-pony shows.

During a recent set at Washington, D.C.’s Blues Alley, the Mike Stern Trio featuring drummer Dennis Chambers and bassist Richard Bona unabashedly indulged in the f-word, but with musical, sometimes even beautiful results. There were many moments where chops where presented in clinical, exhibitive ways-this is Stern and Chambers, after all-but the band seemed closer in spirit to jazz-rock’s artful 1970s pioneers than the vain showmen of the 1980s; even if Stern’s recordings remain sonically embroiled in fluorescent ’80s overproduction.

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