Magazine article Guitar Player

Power Duo: Eric Johnson and Mike Stern Team Up to Record Electric

Magazine article Guitar Player

Power Duo: Eric Johnson and Mike Stern Team Up to Record Electric

Article excerpt

THE TERM "SUPER GROUP" WENT OUT OF VOGUE DECADES AGO, but the concept is still a viable one, as we've seen plenty of times ever since technology enabled musicians to record albums without having to be physically in the studio with their fellow players. Breaking this mold, the new album Eclectic pairs Eric Johnson and Mike Stern--along with Anton Fig on drums and Johnson's bassist Chris Maresh--in a setting where they could benefit from the proximity effect of actually working in the same room--a situation that afforded them the opportunity to discover a lot of commonality in the music they created; a rich fusion of jazz, rock, blues, and, well, eclectic sounds that reflect the stylistic reach that both of these guitarists possess. It's not the first time they've recorded in-studio together--Stern's 2009 album Big Neighborhood featured Eric Johnson on two songs--but this time they've not only produced a complete album, but have taken the show live and plan to continue working together.

Asked as to what these acclaimed guitarists with vastly different styles get out of collaborating so closely, Eric Johnson responded, "I've enjoyed this double guitar thing a lot, and I think it's because we come from different places. Mike is a great songwriter and composer, and I love the ballads he writes. He is very conscientious about tuning and treatment of sections, and working out chord voicings so that the guitars fit together rather than colliding with each other. I think that we're both trying to be concerned about the composition in the big picture, and I like how he treats his guitar parts to serve the music he wants to play.

Mike Stern had this to say: "I haven't usually been into collaborating with other guitarists, but ever since we did those songs on Big Neighborhood, I've wanted to do something more with Eric. So along came this opportunity to play together at the Blue Note in New York, and it felt so good that we decided to go and record. I like a very live sound in the studio, because with the stuff I do there's always a lot of interaction. Also, you can get all of these last minute ideas in the studio, which you can't do when you're not playing together."

Did this project afford you an opportunity to expand your own skills in any particular way?

Johnson: Absolutely. Playing with Mike is a learning experience for me because he's coming from a lot of styles that I'm not as familiar with. It's not that I'm trying to become a jazz guitarist per se, but I do want to absorb more of that idiom so I can implement it into what I do. Just the effect of learning more about chords and playing through changes has been fun for me, and Mike is a great guy to be around because he knows his stuff backwards and forwards. I've been pondering how I can take all that and do something fresh or different in my own music. It's also good timing for me to open up to that because if you're serious about being a musician, it's a process of being nakedly honest with yourself and thinking about how you can improve on what you're doing and be more meaningful. If you play the same old thing for a lot of years, you run that risk of simply regurgitating your history.

Stern: Eric has all this really cool stuff that I haven't actually thought about for years, and never really got into in the first place. So I'm trying to learn some of the stuff that he does, but it's very involved. I'm looking forward to doing some more touring with him and I'm going to be picking his brain like crazy. See I write down things I hear from different players, mainly jazz stuff, and I'm starting to do that with Eric now because it's just a different way of approaching the instrument. It's so exciting for me to hear somebody that's coming from a different place.

Where did the idea of forming a band come from?

Johnson: Working on Big Neighborhood kind of opened the door to that by making me more familiar with what Mike was doing. …

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