By Josef Woodard | Published March 2019
Fusion isn’t dead, it’s just not at the center of the jazz world. Europe and Scandinavia still are welcome stomping grounds for contemporary variations on the theme, and this fine example, a match-up of Norwegian keyboardist Jan Gunnar Hoff’s taut band, and veteran fusioneer and guitarist Mike Stern, illustrates the continuing artistic validity of the genre.
Echoes of past American fusion standard bearers—such as Steps Ahead, the Pat Metheny Group and Stern’s own work with Miles Davis—freely circulate on the album’s eight varied tracks. Things open a bit sentimentally with Hoff’s “Some Day,” but immediately get tougher, toothier and more over-driven on the next track, “City Z.” Stern’s signature guitar voice, mixing post-bopish linear twists and bluesy note-bending, sparks up the sonic landscape.
Bassist Per Mathisen engages in tight, control-minded rhythm section mastery with drummer Audun Kleive; the slinky Stern-dedicated “Mike 6/4” and old-school fusion closer “Point Blank” being particularly notable.
Stern’s own deft balladic touch shines through on an old gem from his songbook, the lovely “Common Ground.” His inspired compositional input on Hoff’s album also yields the stealthy, medium-heat groover “Seven Thirty,” as well as the sweet-spirited and tropical “All You Need,” replete with a wordless vocal melody reminiscent of his past ally, Richard Bona.
Be careful what music’s deemed anachronistic. Hoff’s album, with Stern’s formidable help, organically crosses over eras and transatlantic aesthetics, bridging a division in fusion.
Featuring Mike Stern: Some Day; City Z; Her Song; Seven Thirty; Mike 6/4; Common Ground; All You Need; Point Blank. (49:17)
Personnel: Jan Gunnar Huff, piano, keyboards; Mike Stern, guitar, vocals; Per Mathisen, electric, acoustic bass; Audun Kleive, drums.