True, guitar god Stern is regularly “all over the place” around the globe touring with different lineups, which enables him to write with specific musicians in mind—a key reason his 15th solo outing is among his finest. Another is the eight flavors of bass he calls upon to deliver his nuanced compositions and drive his multilingual blowing. The stomping opener, “AJ,” is penned for Anthony Jackson, who quickly locks into head-turning groove improv mode—as does Will Lee on the brisk title track. Tom Kennedy and Victor Bailey bring their inherent ability to swing on bass guitar to the nth degree on “Out of the Blue” and “Flip Side,” respectively. Vocally, Richard Bona applies his trademark pipes and bubbling bass to “Cameroon” and “Light,” while Esperanza Spalding (on upright) wordlessly doubles the Spanish-tinged melody of “As Far As We Know”—like all Stern ballads, a lesson in voice-leading.
Elsewhere, Dave Holland is at his creative best turning the straightahead grooves of “Blues for Al” and “OCD” (based on “I Love You”) inside out, while soloing on the former. Perhaps most eye-opening is Victor Wooten’s 5-string pocket mastery on the slide guitar showcase, “Half Way Home,” capped by his pliant pluck and slap solo.