Play Review (4/5
guitarists can strike sparks when they work together.
Witness recent collaborations of Pat Metheny with John
Scofield and Jim Hall, and Pat Martino with six
different six-stringers. Mike Stern was hooked up with
Martino for two tracks on the latter project, so he
knows the magic that can happen when like-minded players
Given Stern's signature sound -- a
diamond-hard, single-note attack with a minimum of
electronic distortion -- the choice of Bill Frisell
might seem an odd one, but, as in live, sometimes
opposites attract. Just how much is demonstrated on
"Blue Tone", where Frisell's signature chiming,
atmospheric sound provides a gauzy counterbalance to
stern's hard edge.
"All Heart" moves them closer
to a common ground, one that sounds like it's situated
just west of Cheyenne, deep in the heart of Frisell's
usual big sky territory. Jim Beard provides some subtle
shading on keyboards, and Stern turns in an achingly
Their remaining two duets dance
somewhere between the two extremes, with Stern's spidery
lead lines twisting around Frisell's accompaniment in
"Frizz" and both players exploring a multitude of tonal
variations on the stripped-down quartet outing, "Big
The combination of Stern with John
Scofield is something that has been 16 years in the
making, ever since the two of them worked together
briefly in one of Miles Davis' best post-comeback units.
That line-up made one recording, 1983's Star People, and
guitar fans have been waiting for Sco and Stern to
reunite ever since.
Scofield's slippery style
meshes so well with Stern's more staccato approach that
it's sometimes difficult to determine whose amplifier is
emitting which sound without the benefit of headphones.
"Small World" drops the two guitarists down in the
Crescent City, courtesy of Ben Perowsky's rolling
second-line drumming, but it's the boppish "Outta Town"
where this two-guitar concept really shines. Sco and
Stern both have faultless articulation at any tempo, and
the twisting theme pushes them to the limit as they
crank up the intensity to trade choruses.
three solo outings could run the risk of paling by
comparison to the all-star hookups, but Dennis Chambers
keeps that from happening with powerhouse drumming that
bows deeply in the direction of Billy Cobham. In fact,
the jittery high-octane funk of "Link", propelled by
Chambers and highlighted by a churning Bob Malach solo,
is one the best things on Play.