Mike Stern: All Over the Place

When JazzTimes reviewed Mike Stern’s previous release in 2009, our critic was not overly enthused, concluding with the comment that “Perhaps with better sequencing and a solid band, Big Neighborhood … might not seem so all over the place.” Well, the guitarist must not be too offended by that last phrase, because his latest release uses it as its title and celebrates that very multifariousness.

And Stern’s got a point: He does-on this album and several others preceding it-tend to jump around stylistically. He’s a mover, not one to pick a place to go and relax there. And he likes using a supersized cast of players to help him make those moves. In that sense, All Over the Place continues where Big Neighborhood and 2006’s Who Let the Cats Out? left off. Several of Stern’s collaborators here have partnered with him previously-bassists Anthony Jackson, Victor Wooten, Esperanza Spalding and Richard Bona, keyboardist/producer Jim Beard and drummer Dave Weckl among them-and while others are new to Stern’s orbit, he utilizes them the same way he does the returnees, drawing them into his groove and then letting them loose to affix their own shapes and colors to his creations.

It works to his advantage. On “Out of the Blue,” Stern’s impossibly manic solo is matched buzz for buzz by Randy Brecker’s trumpet, but the songs buttressing it, the percussive “Cameroon” (an homage to Bona, who hails from that nation) and the floating ballad “As Far as We Know” (with Spalding), are so different as to seem to derive from another album entirely.

And so it goes until the closer, the title track, which flits from blaring rock to deep funk before it fades away, capping a set that makes no apologies for its restlessness.

Jeff Tamarkin

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Jeff Tamarkin is the former editor of Goldmine, CMJ, Relix, and Global Rhythm. As a writer he has contributed to the New York Daily News, JazzTimes, Boston Phoenix, Harp, Mojo, Newsday, Billboard, and many other publications. He is the author of the book Got a Revolution: The Turbulent Flight of Jefferson Airplane and has contributed to The Guinness Companion to Popular Music, All Music Guide, and several other encyclopedias. He has also served as a consultant to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, NARAS, National Geographic Online, and Music Club Records.