Mike Stern – ‘Fat Time’ – Guitar Solo
For most musicians there are specific recordings that have stood out as being particularly inspirational and Mike Stern’s playing on the track ‘Fat Time’ with Miles Davis was one such recording for me when I first heard it many years ago. Recorded on the 1981 album ‘The Man with the Horn’, it features a lengthy solo from Stern over a funk influenced two chord sequence (moving gradually from Cm7 to a Phrygian sounding A7 section)
Much of Miles Davis’ music around this period was experimental, loosely composed and heavily dependent upon the collective improvisational skills of his band members to dictate the flow and shape of the music. This improvisational approach can be heard to particularly good effect on the live album ‘We Want Miles’ (also featuring Mike Stern)
Here’s the original track to listen to first:
Stern’s solo on ‘Fat Time’ is a tour de force combination of stinging rock/blues triplet licks interspersed with long 1/16th note (and often chromatic) jazz lines. Probably the most noticeable feature of the solo is Stern’s highly effective use of rhythm. He frequently employs both regular 1/16th notes and 1/16th note triplets in the longer passages within the solo and this goes a long way to help build the solo’s rising tension and sense of drama.
Beginning with some syncopated phrases (played on his Stratocaster’s neck pickup) from the C minor pentatonic scale in bars 1 & 2, Stern then follows this with some long bends before switching over to his bridge pickup around bar 3 for a more biting blues tone.
Now in full rock-blues mode, Stern builds up the dynamic in the solo using some rapid-fire blues phrases that wouldn’t have been out of place in Johnny Winter’s or Eric Clapton’s early playing. This pattern of repeated blues licks develops until around bar 17, where Sterns shifts gear by playing a long passage of 1/16th notes in a manner more reminiscent of a jazz tenor saxophonist. It’s hard to know exactly how he fingered this series of bars, but I have notated it as being played descending down the top E string until around the end of bar 19.
By bar 20, Stern is in full bop mode, playing both diminished arpeggios and chromatic phrases before returning once again to the rock-blues lines in bar 22. By bar 25, he is using more 1/16th note syncopation before an angular line in fourths appears in bar 27.
By bar 30, the mood of the performance has changed somewhat and the band launch into a Phrygian sounding section based loosely around an A7 chord vamp.
Stern handles the chord change effortlessly and switches to a long series of 1/16th note arpeggio triplets grouped in fours – a classic Stern move. Here he alternates between an A major triad and a Bb major triad for a very dramatic modal effect. By bar 35, he has returned to the rock-blues bends for yet another stylistic twist.
A masterpiece of fusion guitar playing, this solo helped launch Stern’s career as one of the most innovative jazz/rock guitarists of his generation and led him onto to a highly successful career both as a sideman and as a solo artist. The composition’s title was apparently Miles Davis’ nickname for Stern at the time.
Here is a PDF of the solo covering the sections discussed above:
If you are interested in a complete analysis of the remainder of the solo, this will shortly be available on my Patreon guitar lessons page located at the following link: Pete Sklaroff on Patreon
Enjoy studying this great solo by jazz guitarist Mike Stern.