Right from the inexorable forward-movement of Tumble Home, which opened the SNJO’s inspired collaboration with jazz-rock guitarist Mike Stern, the only thing to match the consistently high energy which informed the gig was Stern’s perpetually expansive grin.
Scottish National Jazz Orchestra with Mike Stern | Rating: **** | Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, Glasgow
Trademark jeans and sweater contrasting with the sharp-suited big band, the ever-laid-back New Yorker steered his guitar joyously through mellow chiming, post-bop rock outpourings, stratospheric keening and looped sighs and echoes, as saxophonist and SNJO director Tommy Smith brought in the big band with a brassy roar and trumpeter Tom MacNiven and saxophonist Martin Kershaw delivered the first, suitably terse solos of the night while drummer Alyn Cosker proved in suitably muscular form.
Tumble Home seemed a hard act to follow, but follow it they did, in spades, the SNJO’s horns delivering slamming interjections or creating a richly textured backdrop in the haunting Wishing Well, with Stern vocalising over sweetly singing guitar.
The guitarist took delight in improvisational exchanges with individual or paired band members, notably trumpeter Lorne Cowieson, who sparred with the stuttering, howling guitar over Calum Gourlay’s rumbling electric bass.
Elsewhere, Stern and Smith engaged in dazzling unison runs and creatively divergent solos, while Marcus Miller’s Splatch saw guitarist and band lock in gleefully headlong locomotive drive, and a sudden quotation from Jimi Hendrix’s Third Stone from the Sun paid eloquent tribute to one of Stern’s own guitar heroes.