Music

Guitarist Mike Stern Rocks The House In Berlin

Mike Stern and Anouschka Pearlman

NPR Berlin's Anouschka Pearlman speaks with guitarist Mike Stern in Berlin. Martha Acevedo hide caption

itoggle caption Martha Acevedo

Ever wish you could meet Mike Stern? I always did.

I’ve been a fan since my days as a guitar student at Berklee College of Music. I had the privilege of chatting with Stern before his show at the Quasimodo Jazz Club in Berlin during his Europe tour.

I wanted to get to know the man behind the guitar. We spoke about everything from how he approaches his music to taking out cat litter and reading thrillers. Here's the audio:

Mike Stern is one of the world’s foremost jazz-rock-fusion guitarists. His musicality knows no limits- he can get down and dirty with the blues, rock out like a rock star, segue into Frisell-like voicings and be-bop with the best. His breadth, stellar technique and trademark sound have earned him numerous accolades.

Stern was awarded Best Jazz Guitarist of the Year by Guitar Player magazine 1993, the Orville W. Gibson Award for Best Jazz Guitarist 1996, and the Miles Davies Award 2007. His recordings have earned him no less than 5 Grammy nominations.

Originally from Boston, Stern got his start as the guitar player for the band Blood Sweat and Tears. He never strays too far from his rock roots or the blues, which is what I find makes him so dynamic.

Not all great jazz players can rock out, and rarer still is the rock musician who can master the sophisticated re-harmonies and sensibilities of jazz. Mike Stern remains fresh; you never know the next phrase, the next voicing, the next emotion.

He’s collaborated with the who’s who in jazz: Miles Davies, Jaco Pastorius, David Sanborn, Mitch Forman, Dennis Chambers, Brecker Brothers, and The Yellowjackets - just to mention a few.

He likes to experiment; guest artists on his latest release Big Neighborhood include Steve Vai, Eric Johnson, Terri Lyne Carrington, and jam-band godfathers Medeski Martin & Wood.

For this tour, Stern joins forces with three other virtuosos in their own right: Lionel Cordew (Dean Brown, Brecker brothers, David Sanborn, Marcus Miller, Gino Vanelli, Cassandra Wilson, Bill Evans) on drums, Alain Caron, one of the world’s leading masters of six-string bass slap technique on bass, and the premier jazz violinist of today Didier Lockwood (Dave Brubeck, Billy Cobham, Miles Davies, and Herbie Hancock.)

The show was an electric tour de force of the energies and abilities of the group. Lockwood’s violin adds a new dimension to the repertoire. Aside from sharing some rock roots (Lockwood was in the band Magma,) both Mike and Didier are consummate showmen and trade phrases and limelight throughout the sets.

Watching Lockwood on stage reminded me of the country song “The Devil Went Down to Georgia.” The song is about the Devil who plays a mean fiddle in a duel because he’s “looking for a soul to steal.” Lockwood could steal my soul any day.  No less impressive were the air-tight grooves of Cordew and impeccable melodic bass lines of Caron. On second thought, I might keep my soul, but I’ll hand them all my heart.

The sets were a blend of songs from previous albums such as “KT” and “Tumble Down” from Who let the Cats Out (2006) as well as from the latest release Big Neighborhood (2009). Two of my favorites were the renditions of “Wishing Well” and “What Might Have Been” from the album Voices (2001).

It was an evening of pure artistry for the most selective jazz listener. For anyone who thinks jazz is no longer for the masses, this evening could have changed their mind. When music is this stellar, there are no labels. Deceptive simplicity and pure accessibility at it's best.

They rocked the house.

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