Letting The Cats Out
Mike Stern must not
be very superstitious because his 13th studio release as a leader, Who Let
the Cats Out, shows a black cat glowering in the foreground of its cover.
Yet, the album, if not the finest of his career, ranks favorably among his strongest
works to date. From the percolating groove of the opening, Tumble Home,
to the sultry swagger of KT, and the playful homage to his wife, Leni
Goes Shopping, each track swings or stings with passionate performances.
It seems as though Stern can slay any lingering doubts about his ability (should
any still exist) with his signature Yamaha Pacifica, six strings, and an amp.
Assessing the outcome of his new record, Stern admits, Im really happy
with the way Who Let the Cats Out turned out. Its real loose and I feel
like its got a lot of variety, but it seems like it really holds together.
I love all the tunes and I play a lot on it. For better or worse, that makes it
hang together (laughs).
The triumph of Who Lets the Cats Out, which holds true for most of Sterns
albums, is that he allows each player to leave his or her indelible fingerprints
on the recording. Perhaps because he is such a masterful musician, the guitarist
strives to seek top tier performers and assemble them in a way that will yield
outstanding sonic chemistry. Seemingly amazed by his good fortune to work alongside
such a stellar cast of musicians, the virtuoso beams, I kind of wanted to
do a record with some people that I hadnt played with before and then some
that I had been playing with some. There are a bunch of people, its kind
of an adventurous project to put together. Kim Thompson is a new name and a great
drummer that played on this record, but shed been touring with me. I loved
the opportunity to play with Roy Hargrove [trumpet] and MeShell NdegeOcello
[bass] because theyre really incredible musicians who I really dig. I think
everybody played their asses off: Richard Bona [bass and some vocals], Dave Weckl
[drums], Gregoire Maret [harmonica], I hadnt played with that regularly
either. Victor Wooten [bass], of course, always plays great.
Sterns inspiring performances and compositions seem effortless, but the
man with countless best guitarist awards speaks openly that he works
assiduously to improve both onstage and in the studio. Throughout the writing
and recording of his latest album, Stern recounts honing his craft. He acknowledges,
It takes me a while to write now, especially since Ive written a bunch
of tunes on all my records and some other tunes on other peoples records.
After a while, you just kind of want to get some different stuff happening. You
want to try not to rewrite a tune that youve written, but I think its
also alright just to let go and be who you are. You dont want to second-guess
yourself just to be different for differents sake.
Unlike many other guitar heroes, he finds satisfaction in composing memorable
songs, rather than simply churning out vehicles for endless soloing. With melodic
lyricism and an uncanny ability to shift from fragile sensitivity to full-throttle
aggressive passages, Stern plays for the song and encouragers his collaborators
to follow suit. He explains, Im always looking in both ways, as a
player and as a writer, for new stuff so I can grow and check out different chord
change, a different arrangement, a different little melodic turn, or something
like that. Lately, Ive been trying to write more in new ways. Its
harder to write simpler, but Im trying to so I can actually do some of that
stuff with quartet, not even with a keyboard. Just with saxophone, guitar, bass,
and drums. Even without singing, all those tunes will work live in some capacity
really stripped down.
Despite having played with legends from Miles Davis to Jaco Pastorius, Mike Stern
shows appreciation for the simple pleasure of playing guitar for a living. Any
additional accolades are gravy for him. Almost as an afterthought, he remembers,
Its [Who Let the Cats Out] nominated for a Grammy, which is nice too.
Ive been nominated four times now for different projects. Itd be nice
to win won, but just to be nominated, just to be able to do a record in the first
place, and to have my own band to be able to take out on the road with me, Im
very grateful for all that. All that stuff is just amazing to me. Thatll
never get old for me. I feel very privileged to be able to do that and make it
Who Let The Cats Out?