As the group states, this album is essentially two albums in one. Seven of the ten tracks are quintet pieces featuring Stern with the group, while the remaining three cuts are quartet pieces showcasing the sterling talents of the current members of the group. Still highlighting unusual time signatures, extraordinary writing and production, and a core presence that’s clearly lost nothing over the years, the group only takes one to another level with the searing and expressive guitar of Stern. As keyboardist Russell Ferrante puts it: "Our goal was to make a recording that sounded like Mike had been in the band forever, and I think we accomplished that. To my ears, it feels cohesive like five musicians with a genuine rapport." I couldn’t agree more. Stern weighs in by saying: "I think we have a lot in common musically, and our playing together felt very natural right away." One listen, and you’ll certainly agree with that assessment, as well.
There are quite a few hot offerings here. One of my favorites happens to be the cool yet hot & sometimes frenzied "Double Nickel," a piece packed with saxophonist Bob Mintzer’s excitable runs and drummer Marcus Baylor’s masterful handling of the atypical timing, along with Stern’s signature fluid riffs. Then, there’s the bluesy and somewhat wistful "Dreams Go," a tune on which Mintzer truly shines. Challenging timing is laced throughout this often cheerful undertaking. In addition to "Double Nickel," "Yahoo" comes immediately to mind. Of course, Stern stands larger than life throughout the album, especially on cuts like the very hot "I Wonder," which also emphasizes the manual fluency and dexterity of bassist Jimmy Haslip. The list of goodies on this album goes on and on.
This collaboration is a remarkable achievement and well worth waiting for 15 years to come to light.