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Mike Stern Big Neighborhood (2009) CD Review

by May 24, 2013
Mike Stern Big Neighborhood CD

Mike Stern Big Neighborhood CD

Label: Heads Up (HUCD 3157)

Track List

1)    Big Neighborhood

2)    6th Street

3)    Reach

4)    Song For Pepper

5)    Coupe De Ville

6)    Bird Blue

7)    Moroccan Roll

8)    Long Time Gone

9)    Check One

10)    That’s All It Is

11)    Hope You Don’t Mind


This CD is a guitar lover’s delight! Joining Mike Stern are a couple of the most gifted rock guitarists from the last few decades: Steve Vai (who got his start with Frank Zappa and toured with David Lee Roth among others) and Eric Johnson (who’s early studio work included Carole King and Christopher Cross). These guys have had custom guitars named after them, been nominated for Grammy Awards, and even toured/played together on a couple of live recordings. Anyone who knows me knows I’m not a big rock-and-roll fan, and only someone as good as Mike Stern can steer me towards the type of hard-driving music on this CD; I call it “rock-and-roll jazz” and it is smokin’ hot! Accompanying them are some of the hottest bass players of the last few years, including Richard Bona and Esperanza Spalding (2011 Grammy for Best New Artist). In fact, Esperanza Spalding and drummer Terri Lyne Carrington (2012 Grammy for Best Jazz Vocal Album)--two of the most famous female jazz musicians of our time—appear together on several cuts on this CD.

Audio Quality

A tour-DE-force of recording acumen, this CD features six different lead engineers who recorded in four different studios in three different cities (NYC, LA and Austin). While you can hear subtle differences in recording tastes, the audio quality is always top notch. The CD launches with two screaming tracks: Big Neighborhood (featuring Steve Vai) and 6th Street (featuring Eric Johnson). The latter is named for the actual street in Austin, TX where Johnson got his start over 30 years ago (and I played drums in a funk band as a starving college student). Equally as powerful is the cut Long Time Gone, also featuring Johnson on guitar. My favorite groove on this CD is laid down by the rhythm section team of Billy Martin (drums) and Chris Wood (bass) on Check One. These two provide the foundation for an interesting jazz/funk trio of their own (Medeski, Martin, and Wood). My least favorite tracks on the CD are Moroccan Roll and Hope You Don’t Mind, but just about everything else rates high on the groove scale.


Big Neighborhood was up for a Grammy as “Best Contemporary Jazz Instrumental Album” in 2010, losing out to the Joe Zawinul Syndicate (it’s pretty tough competing with a jazz legend who had recently died). Mike Stern consistently seeks out (and attracts) top notch talent across all instruments for both his studio releases and touring band. For that reason alone, I highly recommend seeing him perform live if the opportunity ever presents itself.


Audio Quality: 5/5

Features: 5/5

Overall: 5/5

Reference Equipment

  • Yamaha DSP-A1 Natural Sound A/V Amplifier (Stereo Mode)
  • Pioneer Elite CLD-99 Reference LD Player
  • Polk Monitor 10B Speakers (x2)


About the author:
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Stanton was born and raised in Kansas City, where he was exposed to the rich culture of jazz at a very young age. He's a drummer and an electrical engineer and loves to review jazz music for us.

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