Guitarist Mike Stern, one cool cat

Special to The Times

THE fusion flame was alive and flourishing in guitarist Mike Stern's opening set at Catalina Bar & Grill Tuesday night. What kind of fusion, one might ask, since jazz has been fusing in all kinds of directions in the last few decades? For Stern, the answer is: whatever musical connection appeals to him at any given moment.

This time out, Stern, whose stellar career encompasses a sequence of musical partnerships reaching from Blood, Sweat & Tears and Jaco Pastorius to Miles Davis and the Brecker Brothers, was working with a trio of frequent partners: tenor saxophonist Bob Franceschini, bassist Victor Wooten and drummer Dennis Chambers. Most of the music was from his latest CD, "Who Let the Cats Out," a collection of material that aptly combines the jazz, blues, funk, rock and groove aspects that are essential to his style. The resulting high-voltage performance offered a virtually nonstop stream of music, all of it state-of-the-art contemporary electric jazz.

Stern was at the center of the action. Strutting the stage with the confident manner of a '70s rock 'n' roller, the slender, long-haired guitarist, making his 52 years look like the new 32, triggered the beginnings of every number, sparked their climaxes and brought them to rousing conclusions. Stern has fully mastered the electric guitar as a jazz instrument. Like contemporaries Pat Metheny and John McLaughlin, his solos replaced the acoustically oriented, horn-influenced styles of earlier jazz guitarists with the sustained tones, sliding phrases and power-driven sounds associated with rock. And he did so while sustaining a steady linkage with the motivic patterns and surging rhythmic drive of bop-oriented jazz.

Saxophonist Franceschini was an able associate, ripping off many of the tunes' fast-paced lines with consummate ease, countering Stern's driving lines with aggressive, often multi-phonic patterns of his own. Chambers -- always a titanic engine of rhythm -- balanced propulsive backup support with several motion-blurring, percussively explosive improvisational excursions. And Wooten, perhaps best known for his work with Bela Fleck's Flecktones, provided the perfect climax to a dynamic evening with a prodigious strumming, plunking, thumping solo, scouring the outer limits of his instrument.


Mike Stern

Where: Catalina Bar & Grill, 6725 W. Sunset Blvd., Hollywood

When: 8:30 and 10:30 p.m. today through Saturday, 7:30 and 9:30 p.m. Sunday

Price: $20 to $35 with two drink minimum

Contact: (323) 466-2210

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