5* Review from Rob Adams in the Herald
Has anyone ever enjoyed playing music more than Mike Stern? The New York-based guitarist arrived onstage, his trademark permanent smile at full beam, plugged in and had a ball. Other guests have conformed to the Scottish National Jazz Orchestra’s normal smart suits look. Not Stern: he’s all about informality. He wears what’s comfortable – jeans habitually and a loose fitting top – and lets the music flow from the strings through his fingers.
With no announcements as to programme and pieces following one into another without much ado, so atuned were soloist and orchestra on the superbly arranged ensembles that what was effectively a big Mike Stern Band delivered pretty much two suites of music.
As his 2012 album title has it, Stern is all over the place – stylistically. The opening number was ultra-fluent stinging, exciting bluebop and before that smiling face had reluctantly taken its leave, he quoted Jimi Hendrix, honoured Miles Davis, detoured into at least one jazz standard, got deeply into a gospel groove, sang wordlessly along with a Brazilian flavoured ballad, crooned a classical-sounding choirboy’s etude, and turned up the heat for a blistering guitar-sax finale with SNJO director Tommy Smith as the orchestra ascended into a glorious rabble.
Much of Stern’s playing was at a conversational level, both in terms of volume and as regards his personal interaction with almost all the musicians in ones and twos, emphasising the alluring quality of his phrasing. A guitar-piano dialogue with Paul Harrison was especially keen and Stern clearly appreciated the spontaneous individual creativity as much as the tightly ordered orchestrations. A top night of life-affirming musicianship all round.