Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Mike Stern and Bill Evans bring their powerhouse quartet to the Jazz Kitchen

Having been a sideman of Miles Davis' at any stage of his storied career is not enough to make a career, but it helps.
Mike Stern and Bill Evans took no prisoners in their Jazz Kitchen visit.

For guitarist Mike Stern and saxophonist Bill Evans, whatever the trumpet icon saw in them as young men has carried them into middle age and allowed them to form a sturdy partnership as leaders — in addition to the solo careers each man has built since those glory days of late-stage Davis in the 1980s.

They brought their quartet to the Jazz Kitchen Tuesday night for two sets.  Backing them up were Teymur Phell, bass guitar, and Richie Morales, drums. Presenting a first set designed to set the ears back and bulge the walls a little, the quartet was met with waves of appreciation from the near-capacity audience.

There is some nuance in even the stormiest Stern-Evans inspirations, as was evident right off the bat after "Out of the Blue" was launched, and Stern's solos got under way after the ensemble rave-up, with the normally hard-hitting Morales moving to brushes. The guitarist's reflective etude-like passages made a transition to chords, and things gradually got frantic once again.

Stern has a lot of variety in his guitar attack, and I tend to prefer his less shredding moods. I particularly liked the Stern composition that opened with a gentle cadenza on guitar, found Evans picking up the soprano sax and then exchanging phrases with the guitarist. A wordless falsetto vocal from Stern paralleling his guitar lines was sweetly effective in putting the Caribbean-style piece across. Both frontmen stuck to their lyrical side as the unnamed song moved to a conclusion.

The forceful tenor saxophone of Evans is sometimes set aside as he switches to synthesizer. And in his composition "Kings and Queens," while at the keyboard he belted out a vocal with words — the most pop-oriented performance of the set. Stern joined him as backup falsettist, reinforcing the lyrics. But Evans made sure his tenor had plenty to say in the middle, before the vocal returned to effect a poised straddling of the pop-jazz border.

After another rather soft-spoken Stern composition called "I Believe You," the band wrapped things up with the full-bore "Trip," a driving piece that brought Morales to the fore, where his ceaseless devotion to maintaining the pulse flowered into full exploitation of the kit. It was the kind of set-ender that no doubt encouraged many of the first-set patrons to stay for two.