Mike Stern and Eric Johnson
August 9 & 10 at The Regattabar
Guitarists Eric Johnson and Mike Stern could not be any more different in person. Mike Stern’s jovial and outgoing personality contrasts Johnson’s quiet, reflective demeanor. On stage, their styles differ as well. While Stern – who worked with Miles Davis and Randy Brecker– has more of a fusion background, Johnson’s made a name for himself through rock and blues. Both virtuosic musicians in their own styles, together, they transcend the boundaries of genre and build complex musical ideas.
Stern and Johnson treated Regattarbar patrons to two double shows Friday and Saturday night. The atmosphere was a stark change for the musicians and their crew, who often sell out bigger venues. With a more intimate atmosphere, the tightly packed audience was able to get a keen look at both players’ virtuosic chops in an energetic four sets.
Each set was musically diverse, with songs ranging from fusion, to rock, to straight-up blues. In their last show, Stern and Johnson tore through a Stern composition called “Big Neighborhood”. In his solo, Stern played technically challenging runs fluidly, flying in and out of the chordal structure of his fusion tune. Eric Johnson took a more lyrical solo, playing with tone and creating elegant, memorable lines. One of the real highlights of each show was a jaw-dropping version of Jimi Hendrix’s, “Red House”. The way the crowd reacted to Stern and Johnson’s solos, it was as if Hendrix, himself had entered the building. Stern went outside his usual fusion style and played an electrifying bluesy solo that would’ve brought B.B. King to his feet. Johnson – who already proven his fluency in blues – surprised the audience and emulated Stern’s style in his solo, showing his impressive yet unexpected jazz chops. The unlikely combination of Eric Johnson and Mike Stern left the audience something new and engaging. Clearly inspiring each other on stage, Stern and Johnson intermodulated their varied styles, resulting in four spectacular shows.
– Nathan Basch (Jazz pianist, Economics student at The George Washington University)