Archive for August, 2012

Every year for the past five, iconic Australian songwriter Richard Clapton has held a show at Sydney’s State Theatre previewing new material and playing his Greatest Hits. Every year Clapton at the State sells out within days, largely because Clapton and his songs have been so much a part of his fans’ lives, stretching back to the mid-70s.

Songs such as ‘Deep Water’, ‘Down In The Lucky Country’ and ‘Capricorn Dancer’ were – like all meaningful pop music – very much part of the wild colonial soundtrack of Australian life back then, and they still resonate today.

This year’s State Theatre concert was significantly different in that this year Richard Clapton has a shiny new album to play to us. In fact, the August 18 show was the opener of a national tour, August through November, to promote ‘Harlequin Nights’, his first album since 2004 and containing, in Clapton’s own estimation “some of the best songs I have put my mind to for many years”.

Clapton seemed almost apologetic to the full house for playing a selection of songs from ‘Harlequin Nights’ in the show’s first half. He mock-sardonically promised us a second half of “the songs you love” – the Hits. He needn’t have worried. ‘Harlequin Nights’ is an easy album to love – very much a Richard Clapton album in every way: wise and wry by turns, drily observational and giddily poetic and – yes – essentially Australian in its accents and its pictures.

A gentle maracas shake from drummer Mick Skelton and the band dove into the warms waters of show opener (and ‘Harlequin Nights’ opener) ‘Sunny Side Up’, a bright note of optimism from a man known more for his dry take on life’s chafing realities.

Then it was the beautiful and wide-screen ‘Vapour Trails’ – this has to be one of the songs of Clapton’s career, if not Australian rock. Like the best of Neil Young, ‘Vapour Trails’ makes a vaulting magnificence from a few simple elements, swelling to a heart-filling high. It is truly magic. It made my wife cry.

The two rockers from ‘Harlequin Nights’, ‘Skanky Town’ (“This song could be about Sydney or it could be about Tokyo”) and ‘Dancing With The Vampires’ (“So many things driving me insane/Till I feel like Charlie Sheen”) saw the band really loosen up and shake out the jams. (I could have sworn I saw a vampire dancing during ‘Dancing With The Vampires’ but it could have just been a trick of the gothic shadows of the ornate old State).

After an intermission Clapton returned with his Greatest Hits. From the more secure vantage point of the Hits part of the show, he admitted nerves and ‘trials and tribulations’ during the ‘Harlequin Nights’ songs. They sounded fine to me – kicked along by one of the better bands in the country: Clapton himself said of the band “it’s like taking the Ferrari for a run”.

And to hear that band – slick when they had to be, grinding raw when they had to be – power Clapton’s hits from the 70s and 80s was a thrill. From the Byron Bay lullaby ‘Blue Bay Blues’ through ‘Deep Water’, ‘Down In The Lucky Country’ and ‘Capricorn Dancer’ to the streamlined rocker ‘I Am An Island’ they were all there.

Nostalgia shows are one thing – RSL clubs host these sorry waxen spectacles every week – but this was very very different: Clapton’s powerful and smart songs, beautifully shaped for speed or for drifting or for dreaming, played with heart and fire by this five piece, was immediate and often hair-raising.

Young guitarist Danny Spencer, Richard Clapton’s collaborator on much of ‘Harlequin Nights’, worked like a Trojan on his side of the stage, obviously in a place of joy. Harmony vocalist Natasha Stuart (one of Sydney’s finest) provided bright sparkle to Clapton’s big choruses throughout.

One of the most affecting pieces of the night was the first encore ‘The Best Years Of Our Lives’, with just Clapton and Stuart singing over the top of feathery keys “Don’t waste time/These are the best years of our lives”. It seemed to affect Clapton as much as it did us all; he walked over and clung to Stuart in a hug.

That hug showed the humanity and the vulnerability of one of our most important songwriters and musical thinkers. That humanity was always what grabbed you in a Richard Clapton song – even in those pieces where he is all steely-eyed cynicism, it is always there. And the new album ‘Harlequin Nights’ shows, 35 years after ‘Girls On The Avenue’ and ‘Goodbye Tiger’, Richard Clapton is still a voice for his age.

Richard Clapton’s tour details are at his website

Photos by Ant Ritz –

Published August 2012 on


When the press rumbles began for the return of Mia Dyson to Australia to tour her new album The Moment, one of the lesser rags caught hold of, of all things, Dyson’s mooted creative liason with Dave Stewart. Stewart, ex-Eurythmics pop maestro and purveyor of all things glossy, seemed keen to reinvent the hugely talented and highly individualistic Mia as an androgynous creation called BOY.

The short story is that the tabloid got most of the details wrong and anyway, Mia and Dave parted ways before any damage could be done. The good news is that Dave Stewart, über-mensch that he may be, didn’t get to put his hands on any of this astounding music. The Moment is thankfully as far from his sheened and preened version of the blues (vis a vis the Eurythmics cartoon-blues ‘Missionary Man’) as you can get.

The Moment come out of Dyson’s roller-coaster assault on America over the last three years. America assaulted back, costing Dyson a relationship but osmosing its legends, people and road-tales into her music. The new album is doubtless the pinnacle of Mia Dyson’s work so far – everything works, everything rings true, everything speaks with her unmatched voice.

Mia Dyson’s voice is what gets you from the outset. The album opener, first single ‘When The Moment Comes’ is a tightly coiled rocker that rises and falls but, like so many great rock’n’roll songs, never truly releases. Dyson’s is a voice that suggests impending violence with its small unfrayings and burrs here and there, a violence that never comes full force – which is what makes it so arresting. As the album progressed I would come to realise it is perhaps one of the great blues voices of these times, suggesting Susan Tedeschi, Melissa Etheridge, even Janis Joplin, but of course entirely of itself.

Wonderful blues ‘Pistol’ follows and it is soaked with emotion – not over-egged, like too many current roots artists, but from a place right inside. “Use this pistol on my heart/Take me out before it starts”. This is the thrill of the blues: when it is right, this music still the most direct line from performer to listener, bar none. And Mia Dyson gets it right, over and over.

Piano ballad ‘The Outskirts of Town’ is a working-class story (“Hard work is never enough“), the sort that Bruce Springsteen always veers off into sweaty melodrama. Dyson keeps it very real and finishes off with the hopeful and inspiring “Can we do what we love/love what we do?”.

‘Dancing On The Edge’ and ‘Tell Me’ are guitar-led ruminations that shrink the world down to a bar for four minutes apiece. Smoky intimacy and noir atmosphere – beautiful stuff that musically matches the greys and grain of Kessia Embry’s cover shot, depicting a wiry Dyson taking a call in some shitty phone booth in some TexMex town.

LedZep-sized monster rocker ‘Jesse’ – a harrowing mother’s confessional to a child – shows the ragged glory of the band under Dyson across The Moment’s ten tracks. Helmed by co-producers Patrick Cupples and Erin ‘Sydney’ Sidney the band play every song with the same Judgement Day abandon that Dyson brings to her own vocal.

The Moment is full of shivers for me – those shivers when a voice curls around its own burred edge, those shivers when a guitar moans out on the prairie’s limit like a three-toned freight whistle, or when a melody or chord-change rises like the sun over Hawaii or maybe Hell. I get a little shiver of a different kind when I imagine what Eurythmic Dave Stewart would have done with/to these songs, but it soon passes, to be replaced with those good shivers that I thank Mia Dyson for.

The Moment is released August 17, 2012.

Mia Dyson’s website, and details of her upcoming Australian Tour (August thru November 2012) is here.

Published August 2012 on

What a pleasure to the ear and soul it is to hear a large group of instruments played acoustically in the same room. Every nuance and colour-shade floats up, as bold and brassy or as transparently wispy as the composer and the instrumentalist intends, entirely uncorrupted by the distorting mirror of electronic sound reinforcement.

This has long been the intimate joy of acoustic jazz, but when that joy is made manifest by a 17-piece jazz big band, it can be truly a thing of wonder.

The Divergence Jazz Orchestra – the new large group put together by composer Jenna Cave and trombonist Paul Weber – is one such aural wonder. The band was launched at Petersham’s Bald Faced Stag and showed great strength, colour and balance. On the night they needed all the strength they could muster to combat the sirens wailing by on Parramatta Road and the thud of Lucy De Soto’s blues-rock band in the front bar (only a thin wall away – good timing, Bald Faced Stag…).

The distractions thankfully didn’t detract from the music of the Divergence Orchestra at all. Created to perform the works of Cave and other Australian jazz composers, the band is made up of some of Sydney’s brightest young players, which gives it a high-energy, bright-eyed attack, evident throughout the eleven tune set.

Opener, the aptly named ‘One Woman’s Day of Triumph’ roared the band into life, after being counted off by the pixie-like Cave. The enthusiasm of the group was evident from the first beat – they came out of the gate warmed up and ready to go – and carried through bristling solos from Chris O’Dea on baritone sax and Peter Koopman on guitar.

The Sammy Nestico-inspired ‘For Miro’ showed Cave’s swinging side with the band putting out a sweetly traditional sound, trumpeter Paul Meo playing a beautiful solo ‘in the cracks’. ‘And Then There Was One’ rocked between 7/4 and 6/4 timing without losing its latin-rock groove, Evan Atwell-Harris signifying on tenor.

One of the aims of the Divergence Orchestra is to give voice to the work of Australian jazz arranger-composers. Nadia Burgess’s crisply swinging ‘34 Degrees South’ was the first non-Cave choice for the night. Later in the set the band would play two tunes by Cameron Earl (conducted by the composer), ‘Run Run’ and ‘Ruby’s Tune’. All proved to anyone with ears that this music is alive and well and living in Australia.

Jenna Cave has a nice line in incorporating West African grooves in her arrangements. ‘A Stranger in Helsinki’ was based on a joyous township high-life jive that was infectious (we were here to listen but I saw every toe tapping) and taken to a far hotter place than Helsinki by Justin Buckingham’s weaving soprano solo. Later in the set every soloist in the band got to fun it up on Cave’s snaky 9/8 Afro-jump ‘Odd Time in Mali’, with drummer James McCaffrey ‘putting the pots on’ (as people far hipper than me are allowed to say).

The well-travelled Cave has drawn inspiration from her globe-trotting jazz odysseys. She is also a rare jazz arranger in that she hasn’t forgotten the power of rhythm. ‘Jazz Euphoria on Frenchmen Street’ finished the night on a jumping New Orleans hand-jive note, as funky as only a Nawlins-inspired gumbo can be.

The whole room smiled. The Parramatta Road sirens and Lucy De Soto’s blooz didn’t matter anymore; they had been blown far far away. The Divergence Jazz Orchestra had belied the fact that this was their first gig through a vibe of fun, happy work and collective groove. Long may they sail.

The Divergence Jazz Orchestra’s Facebook page is here.

Published August 2012 on

Watching iconic Australian singer-songwriter Richard Clapton at this year’s Byron Bay Bluesfest I was reminded of the deep Australian-ness of his music. A golden, salt-sprayed, surf-haze imbues his best songs, such as ‘Down In The Lucky Country’, ‘Capricorn Dancer’ and ‘Deep Water’ (with its bitterly nostalgic couplet “Sitting out on the Palm Beach Road/I’m so drunk and the car won’t go” – which was sung along to by every throat in that Bluesfest crowd).

‘Iconic’ is such a lazy word to use in music writing but Clapton’s body of work is truly that, in that it stands for a particular feeling and a particular place – perfectly exemplified by 1977’s Goodbye Tiger album. Much the same as Bruce Springsteen writing of his USA and Ray Davies or Jarvis Cocker of their UK, Clapton’s songs are about life here, down in the Lucky Country. What elevates them is their wry, resigned stance, quite different from Springsteen’s heroics or Davies’ sentimentality – a stance very Australian in its own laconic way.

At the 2012 Bluesfest, Clapton and his (lean and mean) band showcased several new songs, announcing that they were to be part of a new album. One song that stood out to me at the time was ‘Vapour Trails’, now one of eleven on that album, his first in over eight years. Called Harlequin Nights, it will be released August 4.

‘Vapour Trails’ has a widescreen breadth that is typical of Clapton’s self-production on Harlequin Nights – lush, rich and cinematic. I had visions of horizon-to-horizon aching blue Australian skies, wind through dead boughs, sand, brown rivers, blue waters… Every song has been given all the colour and drama it needs, yet it never muddies or cloys.

The album was created at a bad time for Clapton: his marriage broke down during its gestation. The timely (and possibly therapeutic) partnering with guitarist and songwriter Danny Spencer has resulted in what he describes as “some of the best songs I have put my mind to for many years”. But despite all the pain and changes it is still very much a Richard Clapton album – in preparing this review I listened to Harlequin Nights back to back with Goodbye Tiger and the creative line is seamless, yet the new one has a different atmosphere.

“Harlequin Nights is in some ways a bookend to Goodbye Tiger,” says Clapton. “Goodbye Tiger was a collection of songs written by a young man in his twenties… this new album is a collection of songs written 35 years later about the world we live in today. There is a noticeable seismic shift between the two albums…”

First single ‘Dancing with The Vampires’ is a soul rocker that contains the typically wry humour of a man who keeps his eye on the madness in the world – “So many things driving me insane/Till I feel like Charlie Sheen” and “I’ve been acting like Polanski/And its bringing me undone…”.

There is ‘Sunny Side Up’s yearning for some peace (“I’ve got to lay my baggage down/Cross on over to the sunny side”), the cold drag of age in ‘Over The Borderline’ and some Dylan-oblique fun (“he came all the way from Ghost Town/Dressed up in his self doubt”).

But, 35 years after Goodbye Tiger they are still indelibly Richard Clapton songs and it is so good to hear that voice and those salty observations again, and those true and timeless melodies that come from a deep deep place.

Harlequin Nights is out August 4 2012.

Richard Clapton will be touring Harlequin Nights nationally August thru November, starting at Sydney’s State Theatre.

Richard Clapton’s website and tour details are here.


Published August 2012 on

After years of over-processed, effects-laden shred guitar, the voice of the unadorned electric guitar is a refreshingly direct and emotive one. The originators of blues and rock didn’t have much choice – they had to wring all the feeling they could out of that neck because all they had was a guitar, a wire and an amp (often a converted radio or primitive PA). Guitarists such as Howlin’ Wolf’s hotwire virtuoso, Hubert Sumlin, invented an entire repetoire of bends, double-stops and slides to transcend the wiry tone of their instruments (most of which are still used today, from country to metal).

Many current players still go for that un-effected sound in order to allow nothing to come between them and the listener’s heart and vitals (and ass). Much of the late Stevie Ray Vaughan’s best work was just wood, wire and fingers. Sydney guitarist/drummer Matt ‘The Rumble’ Morrison adopts the same steely, ‘vocal’ tone on his recent LP, Gemini.

Called Gemini because of Morrison’s double-threat skills – he is as much in demand on guitar and drums (check his tasty snake-hipped shuffle on album cut ‘Polarised’) – the LP has a warm and laidback party vibe which frames this music perfectly.

Produced in collaboration with keys-whiz Clayton Doley (The Hands, The Mighty Reapers and recently Harry Manx)Gemini moves from soul to blues to reverb-heavy rock (Morrison’s sly take on the classic ‘Sleepwalk’, called ‘Spacewalk’) and surf (the gorgeous cover of Link Wray’s ‘Mustang’) guitar instrumentals.

The soul cuts feature vocals from the surprising (and wonderfully named) Snooks La Vie as well as Morrison himself. Doley has arranged some tough horns as well and dropped them perfectly in place. Not surprisingly, the rhythm section of Morrison and bassman Rowan Lane is as tight as loose can be – beautiful!

Gemini is a roots-real delight from go to whoa. I cannot wait to check this material live.

Matt’s website is here.


Prior to posting this review, The OrangePress asked Matt Morrison a handful of questions. Here are his responses:

The OrangePress: Where does Matt Morrison come from, musically and spiritually?

Matt Morrison: I guess musically I started listening to my three older brothers playing around the house a lot. We grew up with the similar musical starting point of the early electric blues men, ie Elmore James, Hound Dog Taylor, Muddy Waters, BB King. But its not exclusively blues either, It was not a big leap for me to get into the Beatles, Elvis, Surf guitar, guitar pop (modern and old) Motown, Chess soul etc. I suppose the common thread is guitar, organ and great rhythm sections, which is enough for me. It all seems like an extension of the same thing, same ingredients slightly different flavors. The tunes / songs of these styles of music, and importantly the delivery, all tug at your emotions, the full gamut, one way or another.

TOP: I hear Booker T-style Steve Cropper in your sound and approach very strongly on ‘Gemini’ – who else shapes your guitar playing?

MM: Booker T is always a touchstone for me, and when it comes time to record a song, I always try and consider how those blokes would have gone about it. Because it was so direct and deceptively simple, it is very effective and ultimately cool. We did this a lot with Gemini. Other guitar guys include BB King, the unknown soul twangers in James Brown’s bands of the 60’s, Denny Freeman from Austin Texas that I’ve toured with a few times, the Texas strat guys like Jimmie Vaughan etc. Local guys like Dave Brewer and Jack Housden really knock my socks off too!  At the other end of the spectrum I enjoy learning from Grant Green, early George Benson, Kenny Burrell .

TOP: Hammond-hero Clayton Doley co-produced ‘Gemini’, played on the album and supplied horn arrangements. What did Clayton bring to the sessions?

MM: Clayton and I grew up in Adelaide and are old friends. When I needed someone to help me with the album, he was the only choice really. Because we really didn’t need to talk about much musically or artistically, let alone disagree, as we just inately understand what each other likes, dislikes, and is capable of. It’s not that common for someone to be such a great all round musician like he is, and have all the technical skills and ear required to complete the recording process from beginning to end like he has. His concentration is unparalleled. After a few hours I’m done, he can go all day! We both seem to be able to use practical skills as well as artistic ones to complete the job with the original vision unhindered by extraneous influences. Though sometimes, other input is exactly what is required, but on this occasion, I had fairly grounded ideas about what I wanted, and it was easy to go about it together.

TOP: The sound and vibe is full of old-school flavours. With The Dap-Kings and neo-soul this style seems more popular that ever. What is it in roots-soul-blues that keeps it fresh and evergreen?

MM: I’m hopeful that this “neo-soul” vibe will blossom and continue to provide guys like me with an outlet, cause its not always easy to find one. One thing that keeps this material going in my view is simply the music. Great songs, or fantastic emotive grooves, moving bridges, nice arrangements always have a way of connecting with people, even if they don’t know it. There is a fashion element to all things like this, and if it can be marketed correctly, ie in a way that makes it palatable for people, and make is available to them, then the music will do the rest. I find it is the business and marketing side of things that is the most challenging for most self-made musicians.

TOP: What are you thoughts on current music?

MM: On some levels the big media hits are nothing more than fashionable dross, that I find more difficult to listen to than a team of workmen fixing the bitumen on the street. At least the council blokes are doing something useful! Just trying to buy a pair of new jeans is an effort of self control when dealing with the music in the shop…
On the other hand, there are so many current cool things on you tube, the net in general by artists that have taken roots music to a different level, and give me great encouragement that people are still creating cool stuff and getting some recognition for it. Though, it is sometimes overwhelming to cut though the massive amounts of product out there now to find it. Musicians never fail to surprise me how pro-active they are at finding and passing on interesting modern acts from around the globe.

TOP: Where does Matt Morrison go next, musically and spiritually?

MM: I plan to keep playing drums AND guitar. In fact I just bought a new ’63 orange sparkle round badge Gretsch kit from New York, that has inspired me a little to practise and create on the drums a bit more. And a while ago just finished building the f-hole tele (on the cd cover) to play with too.
In the short term, I have been playing guitar more with Clayton lately, and we will be going up to the big festival in Caloundra in Queensland at the end of Sept. Mid Sept I have the vocalist on my cd – Snooks La Vie coming over from Adelaide to do a run of gigs with the Rumble’ators. Full seven piece band with the horns and Hammond etc.
The positive feedback I’ve been getting about Gemini from everyone has been very heartening. It’s given me confidence to pursue my ideas, and I intend to keep implementing them as best I can, in what ever gig I do. These days, as I get a little older, I prefer to spend more time at home learning the gig that I’m booked for, as opposed to winging it, so that I can give a show my best shot. I remind myself constantly that I’m lucky to have the opportunity to perform at all, let alone next to some of the talented people I work with, and that at the end of the day, its all about doing your best.


Published July 2012 on

There is a nice circularity in nu-soul diva Neneh Cherry making an album with Norwegian/Swedish free jazz trio, The Thing.

Neneh is the daughter of Don Cherry, the jazz pocket-trumpeter who stood shoulder-to-shoulder with Ornette Coleman in the pioneering days of Free Jazz in the 1960s. The Thing named themselves after a Don Cherry composition. (And in case you are ever asked the question in Free Jazz Trivia: The group are the only free jazz ensemble working today who wear stage uniforms; they perform clad in t-shirts from Ruby’s Barbecue Restaurant in Austin, Texas.)

Also, Neneh Cherry was born in Sweden and The Thing have long associations with the US (their bassist lives in Austin, Texas).

Both Cherry and The Thing bring a wide-ranging set of influences to their collaborative recording, The Cherry Thing. Cherry (best known for her 1989 genre-scaring hit album Raw Like Sushi) is at home with anything, it seems, re-shaping it to her liquid flow phrasing – very Jazz in its own way. Check out her re-animation of Iggy Pop & The Stooges’ ‘Dirt’ – she slithers and stabs along the full length of the ominous riff beneath her voice.

The Thing – Mats Gustafsson (saxophones), Ingebrigt Håker Flaten (double bass), and Paal Nilssen-Love (drums) – are a real band: a triple-headed noise generator that rises and falls with Cherry’s ululations and hisses. The sparse instrumentation works entirely in their favour – the moods go from jazz-cool to unhinged skronk and back again, The Thing breathing organically like the beast it is.

Their version of the Madvillain/MF Doom cover, ‘Accordian’, shows exactly this turn-on-a-dime dynamic – the intro is Cherry chopping up the phrasing over double bass; long horn tones soon threaten from afar; soon the build is hitting its top with voice and phrases and rhythms criss-crossing and bouncing off each other. The excitement really flies right out of the speakers because this music is organically made – like anything good in Jazz, it happens for the performers at the same time it happens for we listeners – and is all the fresher for it.

But it is not all freak-out. There are performances of great beauty – the stately ‘Dream Baby Dream’ (originally from NYC noise-punks Suicide) – has echoes of 50s doo-wop nostalgia under its dense harmonies. ‘Golden Heart’ – a rethink of one of Cherry’s father Don’s composition – mesmerises on a minimal repeated theme that grows and dies and grows and dies. Quite a trip.

But it is the rockers that got to me. The Thing are known for their wild, almost punk-energy shows and the version here of Martina Topley-Bird’s ‘Too Tough To Die’ rattles along on a hard-as-nails backbeat. And I have already mentioned The Stooges ‘Dirt’ – but it is so good it deserves a second mention.

The Cherry Thing concludes beautifully (and continues the circularity of it all) with one of the few vocal pieces Don Cherry’s Free Jazz comrade Ornette Coleman ever wrote – the achingly lovely space-blues ‘What Reason Could I Give?’ Neneh Cherry’s resigned but spirited vocal delivery is the essence of jazz singing – patina’d with the brown-blue-black skin of the blues just like Ornette meant it.

Neneh Cherry’s website is here. The Thing’s website is here.

Smalltown Superjazzz’s website is here.

Published July 2012 on and August 2102 on

Without a doubt, the most maligned musical genre of the last century was jazz-rock fusion. To its detractors, this 70s hybrid of jazz chops and rock excess took the worst of both forms and regurgitated a monster of widdly-widdly wankery that was too often all but unbearable.

And then in the 80s they went and added Fairlight synths and Linn drums and Roland Chorus guitars…

Mike Stern was, to many, the jazz-rock guitarist you hated to love. Formerly of horn-rock powerhouse Blood Sweat & Tears, he made us sit up and take notice when he joined Miles Davis on his ‘comeback’ album of 1981, The Man With The Horn. Stern’s processed, chorus/delay sound fitted perfectly with the glassy, synthetic funk of its day. And yet, the fire and propulsion of his playing (with real blues at the heart of his attack) set him ahead of many of his ADHD-fingered contemporaries.

A drug buddy of bass-freak Jaco Pastorius, Stern went through his own drug hell, emerging as a player and musical thinker to watch. His fifteenth album, this year’s All Over The Place, features a dazzling circus of today’s most in-demand players, but is held together by Stern’s vision and truly groovy compositions.

The throwaway title All Over The Place is really not so throwaway – the album features songs written to feature specific players and goes to some piquant African and Latin locales along the way. Opener ‘AJ’ features Anthony Jackson on contrabass guitar. Jackson wahs and pops one of the nastiest bass lines I have heard for a while under the whoops and hollers of solos by Stern and tenor-du-jour Chris Potter.

‘Cameroon’ sets up a high-stepping African highlife strut for West African bassist/vocalist Richard Bona to bass/vocalise around. ‘Out Of The Blue’ glides along on the bass figure of John Coltrane’s hymn ‘A Love Supreme’ which seems to inspire the bejesus out of Randy Brecker who shoots trumpet sparks in his solo.

The ghostly Iberian-flavoured ballad ‘As Far As We Know’ features Grammy-winning bassist Esperanza Spaulding doubling Stern’s gut-string line with her vocal, with a rising passage in the melody that calls to mind the rise in Samuel Barber’s Adagio For Strings. Its porcelain delicacy is booted out of the way by ‘Blues For Al’, a Thelonious-Monkish abstracted blues featuring Miles Davis’s last great drummer Al Foster and another Miles disciple, UK bassist Dave Holland.

Stern’s playing on this blues is full of booze and joy – and this is what has kept his fans right there all the way. In a music that can be overweeningly precious at times, where each note is held up as a pearl, Stern digs in and gives us rough diamonds out of the coal. His obvious joy in getting his mutant Telecaster to squeal, moan and insinuate is in your face.

The guitar is the instrument of the modern musical era. Stern says of the instrument, “The guitar tends to keep you open-minded, because you hear it in so many places. You hear it in rock, in country, in pop, in funk, in classical, you hear it in jazz, you hear it in so many kinds of music that you can immediately identify it on one level or another.”

Over all these years Stern is still excited about the guitar, and it is his joy that keeps us pretty excited too. All Over The Place goes beyond virtuosity to a place where real music can happen.

Published July 2012 on and August 2102 on