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Stern, Mike: Who Let the Cats Out?

Heads Up International, an eclectic division of the Telarc jazz label, deserves kudos for keeping a stable of artists as diverse as the Jaco Pastorius Big Band, South African a cappella group Ladysmith Black Mambazo and genre-blurring guitarist Mike Stern. Who Let the Cats Out?, Stern's 13th solo album (and Heads Up debut), is an organic, guest-laden record that finds the former Miles Davis sideman continuing his musical reawakening, following two previous discs on which Stern explored world-influenced vocal music. Clearly, the man is on a creative streak.

Who Let the Cats Out? is both subtle (the thoughtful and poignant "We're With You") and explosive (the Stevie Ray Vaughan-fueled "Roll With It") often in the same song ("KT," so named after the song's drummer, Kim Thompson, and featuring a mind-blowing trumpet solo from Roy Hargrove). Richard Bona scats in unison with his Pastorius-inspired bass lines on "Good Question," and he provides more mysterious vocals using an affected falsetto alongside Stern's notes on the ethereal "Moody." Stern jazzes things up even more on the frisky ode to his wife, singer/songwriter/guitarist Leni Stern, on "Leni Goes Shopping" and on the soulful, gospel-flavored "All You Need," which also features Bona's vocals. Stern gathers all his loose cats on "Blue Runway," the album's memorable closer that effectively melds various styles via a subdued minor key arrangement that builds to an aggressive outburst that Jazziz and Jazz Times contributor Bill Milkowski hails in the liner notes as one of Stern's "most vicious fretboard excursions since his classic [1981] 'Fat Time' solo with Miles."


Track Listing:
1) Tumble Home
2) KT
3) Good Question
4) Language
5) We're With You
6) Leni Goes Shopping
7) Roll With It
8) Texas
9) Who Let the Cats Out?
10) All You Need
11) Blue Runway

Added: September 4th 2006
Reviewer: Michael Popke
Related Link: Official Mike Stern Web Site
Hits: 2162
Language: english

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Stern, Mike: Who Let the Cats Out?
Posted by Pete Pardo, SoT Staff Writer on 2006-09-04 15:02:30
My Score:

Mike Stern has long been a respected contributor to the jazz and fusion community, ever since filling the guitar slot for Miles Davis back in the early 80's. With a host of solo releases under his belt, and numerous studio sessions on countless jazz, fusion, and shred guitar albums, Stern recently hooked up with Heads Up International, and Who Let the Cats Out? is his debut for the label. And what a debut it is!

The guitarist has always been known to effectively fuse traditional jazz with rock, and the last few years has seen some World, ethnic, and funk styles bleeding through. This continues on this latest release, but in many aspects Who Let the Cats Out? rocks harder than any album since his late 80's gems Upside Downside and Time in Place. One listen to the upbeat and energetic opener "Tumble Home", complete with meaty guitar lines and squonking sax from Bob Franceschini, sets the tone for what is to come. The spirit of Miles lives on in "KT", a song that features the haunting trumpet of Roy Hargrove, tasty organ from Jim Beard, and Stern's fiery liquid guitar solos.

Other hot tracks include the quirky Weather Report influenced number "Good Question", with some ripping Jaco Pastorius styled bass lines from Richard Bona, the lyrical melodies of "Language", the serious yet playful jazz tones of "Leni Goes Shopping", the funky blues of "Roll With It" (featuring some cool bass from Victor Wooten), plenty of bebop shuffle on the title track, and the aggressive fusion of "Blue Runaway", which contains a monstrous solo from Stern in which he steps on the overdrive pedal and really rocks out.

Chalk up another fine album from Mike Stern. He's managed to churn out so much quality music over the last 20 years that at times it's almost hard to keep up, but this latest is indeed very strong and might be one of his best yet.

2004 Sea Of Tranquility
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