Its a wonderful thing that the rather modest northern Italian town of Piacenza can attract someone of the calibre of Mike Stern to its Jazz Festival and certainly a testament that the, by now, 20 year old event is both well respected and valued.

The Boston born guitarist is a bona fide ace in the hole amongst jazz and jazz fusion players as his diverse and unique career amply shows. Collaborations both on record and on stage with the likes of Blood Sweat & Tears, Billy Cobham, Bill Evans, Jaco Pastorius and Miles Davis, he has the swing of Wes Montgomery, the flair and fire of Jimi Hendrix and the inventiveness of Pat Metheny.

Tonight, with a crack band consisting of Leni Stern, his wife, on guitar, Bob Franceschini on sax, Chris Minh Doky on bass and the great Dennis Chambers on drums and percussion, he kicks off this spring European tour at the Teatro President, Piacenza. It may not be the most beautiful of theatres, Italy having so many architectural wonders, but it is acoustically prepared in the most excellent fashion.

Suffice to say it’s a sold out crowd of about 400 people who await the band. Many, enthusiasts, indeed fans of the musicians in the house tonight. What is given is a masterclass in the art of onstage band interplay: Subtle and heavy beats, meshing of melodies, swing and groove, glances and smiles, band dynamics showcasing sound and space; each band member’s performance is a gift.

The jazz purists in the theatre are many and delight in the more trad jazz selections but personally it’s the jazz fusion songs that really stand out with Chris Minh Doky switching from double bass to electric bass and with Dennis Chambers, creating a whirlwind of rhythm and funk for the sax and guitars to reach never ending peaks thanks to an abundance of energy and willingness to excel. Tracks like “You Never Know” and “Chromozone” are sure good on disc but quite magnificent as live tracks. Mike Stern with his twin fender amp setup and simple boss pedals ( the advantage of these out of the way gigs is that you can check out the stage setup without being ushered away) makes his guitar sing is the simplest way to put it. Leni sings on the first song and Mike sings on the closing Jimi Hendrix track but otherwise the absence of vocals is not noticeable as the guitar does it all.

A tour touching the lands of Greece, France, Norway, Germany cannot miss out going to England and indeed they have two nights in London at Ronnie Scott’s lined up. Be sure to go check out this special band.