The house was packed at Catalina’s Thursday night, filled with fans and Middle School Band students to see how guitarist Mike Stern’s playing skills were affected since his hand and shoulder injury last year. Teamed with all stars Dave Weckl/dr, Tom Kennedy/b and Randy Brecker/tp, Stern showed demonstrated living proof of Solomon’s proverb “Though a righteous man falls seven times, he rises again” as Stern played his 80 minute set with the inspiration and energy of a man given a new chance on life.
During the set, Stern touched on the various colors of his prismatic career. Hints of his days with Miles Davis were on display on hard hitting fusion pieces such as from his new album “Trip” as well as “Nothing Personal.” On the latter, Stern and Brecker provided frantic and frenetic unison lines to Weckl’s thunderous avalanche of a relentless groove, while on the latter the leader made the strings bend and snap like Reese Witherspoon in Legally Blonde, and Kennedy delivered a tour de force arm wrestling match with Weckl that had bullets ricocheting off the walls.
Stern’s bluesy side was highlighted on the moody “Avenue B” as he teamed with Weckl on a duet that created dark and long ominous shadows. All that was missing for the noir atmosphere was a guest appearance by Edmund O’Brien and Gloria Grahame.
Drummeister Weckl gave the audience a workshop as he performed a trio of duets with each band member, using his hands for tapping on the traps with the leader for a nifty jam, switching to sashaying brushes with a muted Brecker on a bopping ditty and snapping back and forth with childhood buddy Kennedy for a telepathic pas de deux that can only be accomplished through decades of partnership.
Stern’s hand injury surely hadn’t effect his ability to grasp a pen, as his composition skills were shown to be underappreciably strong on the mellower tunes. Using his voice for harmony with Brecker’s warm horn, he danced over Kennedy’s sleek bass line on the dreamy Afro Caribbean “All You Need” and strummed along with Weckl’s brushes on the trade winds pastoral “I Believe You.”
After the show, as the club cleared out, I asked one of the adolescent band members what they thought of the show. “I gotta practice more!” was the cry as he left to be driven home. Inspiring performers make others reach higher, and Stern inspired many in musical and personal ways this gig of the Christmas season.
Upcoming shows at Catalina’s include Jane Monheit 12/21-23, Arturo Sandoval 12/29-31 and Roy Hargrove 01/11-14