On the heels of their European concert tour, guitar great Mike Stern and keyboard wizard Jeff Lorber recently graced the stage at Hollywood’s Catalina Jazz Club. Featuring a stellar rhythm section that included Dave Weckl on drums and Jimmie Haslip on bass, the foursome performed a riveting 90-minute set of jazz fusion. Joining them on stage on select numbers was Stern’s musician wife, Lani. The capacity crowd was so mesmerized by what they were witnessing on stage they were glued to there seats, erupting with thunderous applause, cheers and whistles following each number. Featuring selections off Stern and Lorber’s latest collaborative 2019 album Eleven (Concord Records), a reference to the film Spinal Tap, all four musicians gelled seamlessly as they meticulously navigated through intricate compositions, which included impressive solos by each member of the group.
“This is the first time we’ve played in this configuration,” says Mike Stern, following the night’s performance. “I’ve played with Dave so much, and he’s such a great player. There is chemistry between both of us so it’s really wonderful playing with him. I can feel and hear what he is doing and play off of him when he plays a phrase, it’s spontaneous. Jimmie and Jeff have been great to work with as well."
Jimmie Haslip of The Yellowjackets is responsible for proposing a Stern and Lorber collaboration. Recording with both of them on separate projects as well as performing live with Stern, he thought it would be an interesting creative merging of two artists.
“Jeff and Mike both admired each other’s musicianship and talent,” says Haslip. “As far as my conception for this collaboration, I thought working together would create something new and different, which was compelling to me.”
“I was definitely very enthusiastic about it because I knew it would be something different and challenging,” added Lorber. “And I liked the idea that it would take me away from what some people call ‘smooth jazz,’ which is a moniker that I don’t really love. Because Mike is not that at all. He’s a lot jazzier in terms of his phrasing. He’s just a bebop wizard, he’s got an incredible jazz feeling. And by the same token, he’s got the rock and blues thing covered too. He’s on both sides of the musical spectrum. So when I heard he was up for it, I was delighted to have a chance to work with him in the studio on this project. And I think we really hit it off musically as well as personally.”
“I like the raw, rough edges of recording live in the studio,” added Stern. “Jeff does it a different way, and he does it really well. He’s kind of amazing at the kind of more produced, almost pop approach to making a record. There’s a certain kind of clarity to that process that I admire. It’s just a different way of conceptualizing it.”
“Mike just loves to play live and his thing builds around that, so we just picked some of his favorite tunes to play live,” says Lorber. “I wanted to kind of reinvent them and reimagine them, so hopefully we were able to step up and do that. What we did was try to add a modern touch by doing more layering, like with some of the overdubbed horn arrangements that David Mann provided on several tunes. And I think Mike was pretty happy with how they turned out.”
Following his tenure with Blood, Sweat and Tears and Miles Davis in the early '80s, Stern, worked with bands led by Jaco Pastorius, Michael Brecker and Joe Henderson as well as groups like Steps Ahead, Vital Information and the Brecker Brothers while also leading his own band and cutting 18 recordings under his own name.
“To me, all of this is dumb luck in some way,” reflects Stern. “I mean being able to play with Miles, that was real lucky ‘cause there’s a lot of amazing players that I would say, ‘He would have sounded great with Miles.’ I’m just glad I got the gig."
Stern’s legendary career nearly came to an end in the summer of 2016 when a serious fall on the streets in New York City caused injuries to his shoulders and right arm. In spite of being forced to cancel his European concert tour, he was determined to continue playing the guitar. Following surgeries and rehabilitation, Stern was forced to alter how he played the guitar by literally gluing a pick to his right hand. He performed a 2017 European tour, featuring Randy Brecker (trumpet), Teymur Phell (bass guitar) and Lenny White (drums). That same year he released Mike Stern: Burn with Stern!, a series of jazz guitar instructional videos for TAGAPublishing.com.
“Music is humbling, and life is more humbling,” says Stern. “Music is such a huge universe. You could spend your life just doing one thing on the guitar. The more you know the less you know, there are so many possibilities. There is so much yet to learn. I’m just getting my music out there and if anybody digs it I’m very flattered. I never take it for granted, that’s for sure. I’m so grateful that I have found something that I love and have a passion for.”
To stay up to date with Mike Stern visit mikestern.org.
To stay up to date with Jeff Lorber visit lorber.com.
To stay up to date with shows at Catalina Jazz Club visit catalinajazzclub.com.