(ESC – 2004)
by Paula Edelstein
The highly acclaimed triple Grammy award-nominee guitarist, Mike Stern, joins forces with Kenny Garrett, drummers Vinnie Colaiuta and Dennis Chambers, Elizabeth Kontomanou, and several awesome bass players including Will Lee, Victor Wooten and Richard Bona on These Times. This is Stern’s debut for ESC Records and it is basically a continuation of VOICES, but with a very strong instrumental presence. Bela Fleck makes a solid appearance on “I Know You,” a delicate and lyrical ballad that Mike Stern wrote for his wife- guitarist/singer/songwriter Leni Stern.
Richard Bona’s angelic falsetto vocals is really impressive, adding some very fresh textures to Fleck’s banjo and Stern’s guitar. There is a bit of a world music vibe going on throughout this recording instead of straight-ahead jazz or jazz/rock fusion you may expect from such great jazz players. However, the ensemble combines their melodic inventiveness, with scorching riffs from Stern, robust alto sax techniques from Garrett, and Bona’s thoughtful lyrics and bass lines.
“If Only,” is beautiful. This is a minor key ballad sung by Bona in his native Douala dialect about a real life incident that touched him as a boy growing up in Africa. Top pick: “These Times” and “Remember” which was written for the late Bob Berg. Mike Stern outdoes himself with this triumphant offering of catchy grooves, burning chops and captivating melodies. It’s definitely a keeper for These Times and beyond!