Mike Stern & Richard Bona, Boerderij 7/11/2004

"Then he gave a very good impression of being tied to a runaway washing machine, forever set on the spin-dry cycle. "


Over two hours of fusion and a stinking, incredible, terrible hangover. It sounds, on first read, a bad combination. Even in the lovely surroundings of a packed Boerderij. But believe you me kids, there were highlights. These being the incredible music; music which almost made me suspend my jazz/fusion cynicism. If fusion could be this good all the time, well....


A good indication of this was the fantastic opening track; a long drawn out jam,with each member of the group given opportunities to show off. And, if you're as good as this band, you might as well. Richard Bona did some unspeakable things with his six stringed bass, an instrument that bore a strong passing resemblance to an anti-tank gun. His hands gave the impression of  being a set of mechanical crabs, scuttling over the strings and frets. This man is unreal. He was scary, you hear me? Dennis Chambers tapped the drums in an off beat, saturnine, relaxed manner, looking for all the world  like a huge Puerto Rican school bus driver; till his moment to show off came along. Then he gave a very good impression of being tied to a runaway washing machine, forever set on the spin-dry cycle. His considerable frame tossed and turned as he indulged in a frenzy of tapping and thumping. His normally impeturbable demeanor took on a wild and hunted look. His eyes bulged, and sweat coursed down in rivulets from under his baseball cap. He began to scare me even more than Richard Bona.


The sax player, (forgive me I've forgotten his name), stood around like a thoughtful grizzly bear on the lookout for scraps, sometimes shutting his eyes, and swaying, ursine-like, to the music. Until his moment to show off came along. Then, cautiously at first, he began to spit notes through his sax. He increased the emotional content and the tempo in his playing till it looked like he'd burst. Once finished, he swayed back, almost insensible, and started pulling bewildered gurning faces, that gave one reason to believe that he was close to spewing up.


Last but not least, we got Mike Stern.Trim and boyish in manner, bearing a close facial resemblance to Mick Jagger, Stern started to play his guitar. And please note; the sheer range of his guitar playing literally stopped you in your tracks. Incredibly beautiful, Vinni Reilly-like ethereal jangling contrasted with Manuel Gottsching bluesy phased freak outs. I'm just not technically accomplished enough, both in my understanding of musical theory and practice, to adequately describe what he does. Suffice to say, he is remarkable. And shows great fluidity. Which is a nice way of saying that his fingers run up and down the neck of his guitar like church mice on bellropes, or squirrels up and down trees. All this accomplished with his remarkably toothy, horsey grin.


Anyway, once the showing off finished, and the band came together to finish off, (via  drawn out doodlings, and with many false endings), the opening track clocked in at a hefty twenty five minutes. Bloody hell.


Well, we got a lot of this throughout the show. Moments of real beauty too; some wonderfully intimate, ethereal, almost choral play offs twixt Bona's voice and Stern's guitar, which eventually worked it's way out into a Hendrix/Deep Purple pastiche. With the accent on "Smoke on the Water". Sounds terrible on paper, but this passage was great.  Being a Deep Purple hater, I just loved the way that Bona and Stern pulled "Smoke" apart, almost taking each bar to pieces, throwing it around sonically, laughing at it, playing it out of tune, never once letting the whole thing descend into a "tribute work out". They even contrived to make their guitars sound like cats. Miaowing "Smoke on The Water". At last. The curse of this song is lifted from me. "Smoke on the Water". Miaowed.


I have to admit that, once the miaowing had stopped, I left the venue. I was sick, and about to erupt in a frenzy of post booze night vomiting. The 'Purple "tribute" finished me. Apologies. Still, despite not being a fusion fan, I'd definately go and see Mike Stern again. No probs.


Words : Richard Foster.