Mike Stern Guitar Solo – ‘Fat Time’
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. Recorded on the 1981 album ‘The Man with the Horn’, it features a lengthy solo from Stern over a funk influenced two chord sequence (Cm7 to A7)
Much of Miles Davis’ music around this period was experimental, loosely composed and dependent upon the collective improvisational skills of his band to dictate the flow 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 is a sample of the very first section of the solo as a taster and you can follow the entire solo in the complete PDF attached further down the page.
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 impossible to know exactly how he fingered this series of bars, but I have notated it as all 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.
By bar 39 Stern is back to full-on bop mode and what follows is a long series of 1/16th lines filled with chromatic passing notes until at bar 46 he breaks the tension by returning to the bluesy string bends. This juxtaposition of jazz lines and raw blues/rock phrases is a Stern trademark and his ability to create drama and intensity by mixing the two approaches has been referred to as ‘Bop’n’Roll’
By bar 50/51 Stern is in full flight, and now adding dramatic arpeggios such as the Dmaj7 seen in both bars 51 and 52. As a change of rhythmic pace, Stern also now shift gears and utilises a long series of 1/16th note triplets until bar 60 (using various motific patterns) until he rounds out the solo with a clustered interval in the final bar.
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 Mike Stern at the time.
Enjoy the solo,