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Mike Stern – Play

"All the sparks and searing interplay you'd expect from a summit meeting of three of the most influential guitarists of their generation" - Bill Milkowski, Jazz Times

With Play, his ninth release on Atlantic Jazz, Mike Stern summons up more fretboard magic in a six-string summit meeting with fellow guitarists John Scofield and Bill Frisell. Drummers Ben Perowsky and Dennis Chambers, bassist Lincoln Goines, tenor saxophonist Bob Malach and keyboardist/producer Jim Beard round out the cast on this gathering of three of the most influential and respected guitarists of their generation.

"They're two of my favorite musicians who just happen to be guitarists", Stern says of his colleagues Scofield and Frisell. "It's been interesting to watch them try different things over the years and still keep their own unique musical voices. And that has certainly inspired me to keep on doing that myself. So it was great to finally get a chance to do a project like this. We're all really close and have a long history together so that was naturally a big part of it ... the fun vibe in the studio. And I think the music came out sounding like that - kind of playful".

The Grammy-nominated guitarist showcases his signature scorching licks and lyrical visibility alongside fellow guitar hero Scofield on the swinging minor blues "Play", the New Orleans flavored groover "Small World" and the bop 'n' roll romp "Outta Town". The four tracks with Frisell - "Blue Tone", "All Heart", "Frizz" and "Big Kids" - were recorded in Bill's hometown of Seattle with Perowsky, Goines and Beard. The remaining three tracks - "Tipitina's" , "Link" and "Goin' Under" - feature Stern with his current working band of Chambers, Goines and Malach.

Stern had glowing praise for his bandmates. "Bob Malach is such a terrific tenor saxophone player and one of my absolute favorites. The more I hear him play the more I'm knocked out. He's got like an endless vocabulary and he just plays great. And of course, Dennis Chambers is someone I've played with for ages and I love his playing. We just finished a tour and he was killing, as usual. And what's scary is, he keeps getting better and better. Lincoln Goines, I've been playing with him for years and he's always great. He's one of those guys who can play the electric bass and swing in a really convincing way where is sounds like an upright conception. And when he funks, it's definitely funky."

A real treat for guitar aficionados, Play brings together these three very distinctive musical personalities whose paths have crossed on a number of occasions over the past 20 years. Although they first met in Boston in the early '70s, Scofield and Stern didn't play together until the early '80s in a band led by bassist Peter Warren. They later shared the bandstand in Miles Davis' band, appearing on the trumpeter's 1983 release Star People. They have also recorded together on drummer Motohiko Hino's 1995 release, It's There. Mike's association with Frisell goes back to their days together as students at the Berklee College of Music in Boston. "We used to play together literally every day when we were both going to Berklee", Stern recalls. "I used to drag Bill over to my apartment or I'd go over to his apartment and we'd play standards all day long. We also played some gigs around Boston together with (trumpeter) Tiger Okoshi or (saxophonist) George Garzone, or sometimes just duo. So we played a bunch together and we have a long personal history. In fact, I met my wife Leni through Bill Frisell".

Stern explains that in writing the material for Play he kept in mind the unique qualities of his colleagues. "Billy's stuff ... I think of him coming from a more textural point of view, almost like a piano player on the guitar. He's also got a very lyrical side to his playing that is really pretty and very atmospheric, and there's a couple of tunes that reflect that. Sco has a real affinity for blues, funk and bebop, which is something that we have in common. And we both kind of go for those hornlike lines, so I wrote with that in mind".

Stern adds that the natural chemistry between drummer Perowsky and bassist Goines helped the tracks with the two guitarists go down quickly and easily. "Ben is really a special player in that he's so versatile. He goes between different styles of music in a very convincing way with a very personal voice. And mainly, he swings his ass off".

track by track comments:

PLAY - It's basically a minor blues, a very familiar form where we wouldn't have to think too much about the changes so we could just go for it in the studio and get a vibe going between everybody. When I wrote this, I was thinking, "this would be a great one for me and Sco." I solo first then he tears it up as the second soloist and we take the tune out. I also think Ben and Lincoln sound beautiful on this track.

SMALL WORLD - It's a second line tune which has a Sco-ish vibe to it. I've heard him play this kind of groove before and I thought he would sound great on it. It's also got a little pop flavor to it too ... kind of a singable melody.

OUTTA TOWN - This is a bebop head that I wrote over the changes to the standard tune "Have You Met Miss Jones." Right away I figured that Sco would know that tune or that he certainly had played it at some point. So it was familiar ground. We played it loose and traded at the end, and Sco just tore it up.

BLUE TONE - I figured that Bill would sound great on this ballad. I was actually calling it "Frizz Tone" for a while, which has been my nickname for him. We recorded it live with a real spontaneous feel to it and then Bill overdubbed one of his trademark tape loops which comes in and out of the tune every so often and adds a real mysterioso vibe.

TIPITINA'S - My band had been playing this tune for a while before I had a title, and then somebody reminded me of this gig I had done with Jaco Pastorius at Tipitina's (a popular New Orleans nightclub) a long time ago. Although we were in new Orleans we ended up playing more James Brown influenced funk stuff on that gig. This tune has a little bit of a New Orleans feel to it but then it gets into this more funk groove. The title was kind of personal to me ... not so much about the club as the night that I played there with Jaco.

ALL HEART - Bill plays electric guitar just comping behind the melody, and then he adds some acoustic guitar parts. We did it in just one take and really nailed it. An then Bill brings his own unique textures to it with the acoustic overdubs.

FRIZZ - This one highlights Bill's Monish side. It's just a blues but it's got a quirky head. And it's a fun tune and there's a lot of interplay going on. Bill has a lot of humor in his playing and it really comes through on this track. Once again, it's a familiar form so we could just stretch out and play.

LINK - This is another band tune. It's mainly named for Lincoln Goines but there's also a link to a tune that is a personal favorite of mine, Cedar Walton's "Bolivia." I took a slight variation of that bass line to that tune and wrote a different tune over the top of it.

GOIN' UNDER - That's a slow, bluesy tune that I kind of wanted to record with my band. And because we had been playing so much together on the road I developed a great musical rapport with them. So this is one that just kind of fell into place right away in the studio.

BIG KIDS - This a funk tune with a bebopish line over the top of it. Bill and I play the form together and at the end we take it out a little bit. Yeah, it was fun to let loose like that.

Released September 14th, 1999

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