Saturday, January 2, 2016

Steps Ahead - 1992 "Yin-Yang"

Steps Ahead (originally known as Steps) is a jazz fusion group and the brainchild of vibraphonist Mike Mainieri. According to the liner notes of the group's 1983 debut album (for worldwide release), entitled Steps Ahead, "Steps began as a part-time venture in 1979 at Seventh Avenue South, a New York City nightclub." The group began releasing recordings in Japan as far back as 1980.
The first line-up of Steps in the period 1979-1981, as can be read on the live album Smokin' in the Pit, consisted of Michael Brecker (tenor sax), Steve Gadd (drums), Eddie Gómez (bass), Don Grolnick (piano), Mike Mainieri (vibraphone), and special guest Kazumi Watanabe (guitar). This double live album was recorded on 15 and 16 December 1979 at The Pit Inn Tokyo. A second studio recording was made on 17 December 1979, called Step by Step. Smokin' in the Pit was released in 1980 and awarded a gold record. The studio album Step by Step was released shortly after, followed in the summer of 1980 by another live recording called Paradox. These three albums (see Mike Mainieri's notes in the booklet of the 1999 cd release of Smokin' in the Pit) were the only albums released by the group under the name of Steps. In 1982 they learned that the name Steps had been trademarked by a band in North Carolina, and therefore changed their name to Steps Ahead.
The line-up for the Steps Ahead album consisted of Mainieri, Michael Brecker (tenor sax), Eliane Elias (piano), Peter Erskine (drums), and Eddie Gómez (bass).
The group's members has also included Dennis Chambers, Warren Bernhardt, Rachel Z, Donny McCaslin, Chuck Loeb, Victor Bailey, Tony Levin, Bob Berg, Darryl Jones, Mike Stern, Richard Bona, and many others.
Brecker and Mainieri are featured on the Dire Straits album Brothers in Arms. For rock listeners, the albums Steps Ahead and Modern Times (1984, with Bernhardt replacing Elias in the main line-up, and other guest musicians appearing in limited roles) are a great bridge into a kind of jazz that is energetic and powerful. Reflecting the cooperative, ensemble nature of the band, the Modern Times album included compositions by Mainieri, Brecker, Erskine, and Bernhardt.
According to the website NYC Records, which include's Mainieri's biographical sketch and touring schedule with Steps Ahead, the 2007 instantiation of Steps Ahead includes: Mainieri (vibes), Bill Evans (sax; not to be confused with the jazz pianist also named Bill Evans), Bryan Baker (guitar), Anthony Jackson (bass), and Steve Smith (drums), a former member of the rock group Journey. On some stops of the tour, Etienne Mbappe is listed as filling in for Jackson.
This CD from the part-time fusion band Steps Ahead is probably most notable for introducing the fine keyboardist Rachel Z. Also in the group at the time were leader Mike Mainieri on MIDI vibraharp and synclavier, saxophonist Bendik, bassist Jeff Andrews and drummer Steve Smith. Put out by Mainieri's NYC label, this mostly high-powered performance consists of group originals, generally by Mainieri and Bendik. Unlike other Steps Ahead records, there are quite a few guests on various tracks including guitarists Steve Khan, Wayne Krantz, Jimi Tunnell and Chuck Loeb, electric bassist Victor Bailey and tenorman Rick Margitza. The music has spirit and drive.

Different forms of style here: ballads, rock based backbeats, straight ahead jazz...Mike's vibraphone tells a story and the rhythm section play with great precision and feel. Awesome Steve Smith and Jeff! Racheal Z. and a host of guest artist put the finishing touch on a sexy, sophisticated, beautiful experience. buy it! 

Purchasing this particular album was a bit of a gamble for me since Michael Brecker's Sax is not there, as on previous Steps Ahead albums. Surprisingly, Brecker's absence allows more of a statement from Mike Mainieri's Vibraharp, Synclavier, etc. The result is very cool and rhythmic with more of a melodic presence. Enjoy.

Track listing:

01. Sidewalk Maneuvers(4:49) [Mike Mainieri]
02. Praise (4:47) [Mike Mainieri]
03. Nite Owl (5:32) [Mike Mainieri]
04. Taxi (3:28) [Bendik]
05. Tamarin Lion (5:44) [R.Skår, Bendik]
06. Gory Details (4:55) [R.Nicolazzo, Mike Mainieri]
07. Agitate The Gravel (5:56) [Spencer Cozens, Miles Bould, Mike Mainieri]
08. Okapi (6:20) [Bendik]
09. Orion (4:38) [R.Nicolazzo, Mike Mainieri]
10. Steppish (7:57) [Mike Mainieri]
11. Saras Toush (6:33) [Mike Mainieri]


Mike Manieri (vibraphone, synthesizer, percussion);
Bendik (saxophone);
Rachel Z. (piano, synthesizer);
Jeff Andrews (acoustic & electric basses);
Steve Smith (drums).

Additional personnel:

Wayne Krantz (acoustic guitar, electric guitar);
Dean Brown , Steve Khan, Jimi Tunnell, Chuck Loeb (electric guitar);
Rick Margitza (tenor saxophone);
Spencer Cozens (keyboards, bass synthesizer);
Bruce Martin (synthesizer, percussion);
George Whitty (synthesizer);
Victor Bailey (electric bass);
Miles Bould (percussion);
Victor Bailey (electric bass);
Alan Thompson (bass);
Miles Bould (percussion, programming).



  2. Thanks for this and have a happy new year