Mike Stern | Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

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Mike Stern


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When guitarist Mike Stern lets loose his dark, searing tone, varying his attack every third or fourth note and slicing through one good idea after another, it almost doesn't matter what tune he's called: from moody 40s ballads to clever postfusion blues, it all comes out imprinted with his exciting artistic intelligence. Stern belongs to a small fraternity of genuine guitar gods, players whose command of the electric instrument and mastery of a variety of idioms leave their fidgety acolytes with jaws on the floor. But Stern wears his mantle without the insolent swagger or mindless exhibitionism of most of his fellow titans. He probably got his fill of that stuff as a member of Miles Davis's comeback electric band (1981-'83 and again in '85), a showcase that pushed his career to the next level; since then, he's been crafting a credible approach to fusion in the 90s, one that adapts the idiom's energetic aesthetic to a much wider range of the jazz repertoire. Stern's last few albums, including the Grammy-nominated Give and Take (Atlantic), have benefited from his experience in making 1992's Standards and Other Songs (Atlantic), on which he began reinvestigating the mainstream: his musical outlook grew more mature and his playing opened up like a magician's box. Like fellow traveler Michael Brecker (who's played saxophone on several of his albums), Stern is deceptively economical, even in the most florid passages: when the notes pile up they push the song in a clear direction instead of spilling all over the map. Given his pivotal association with Miles--and the fact that this appearance coincides with what would've been Miles's 72nd birthday--I imagine Stern will pull a tune or two out of the trumpeter's extensive songbook. His excellent trio comprises Lincoln Goines on bass and Richie Morales on drums. Tuesday, 8 PM, HotHouse, 31 E. Balbo; 312-362-9707. NEIL TESSER

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): uncredited photo.

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