Saturday, January 20, 2018

Steps Ahead - 1989 "N.Y.C."

Steps Ahead is a jazz fusion group formed by vibraphonist Mike Mainieri in the 1970s. The lineup consisted of Mainieri, Michael Brecker, Don Grolnick, Eddie Gómez, and Steve Gadd and would change often over the years. Steps Ahead fused elements of rock, funk, jazz, and rhythm and blues.

The group arose out of spontaneous sessions at Seventh Avenue South, a jazz club in New York City owned by saxophonist Michael Brecker and trumpeter brother Randy Brecker. The first three albums were released under the name Steps, later changed to Steps Ahead, on Nippon Columbia in Japan, starting with the debut live album Smokin' in the Pit (1979), followed by Step By Step (1979) and Paradox (1981).

The shifting roster has included saxophonists Bob Berg, Bendik Hofseth, Bill Evans, Ernie Watts, and Donny McCaslin; pianists Eliane Elias and Rachel Z; guitarists Mike Stern, Chuck Loeb, and Steve Khan; bassists Darryl Jones, Tony Levin, Victor Bailey, and Marc Johnson; and drummers Peter Erskine, Steve Smith, and Dennis Chambers.

Steps Ahead was active during the 1970s and '80s, intermittently during the 1990s, reunited for concerts in the mid-2000s, and released a new album in 2016.

In 1989, Steps Ahead consisted of Mike Mainieri on MIDI vibraharp, synclavier and acoustic piano, the young saxophonist Bendik doubling on keyboards, guitarist Steve Kahn, Tony Levin on electric bass and Chapman stick, and drummer Steve Smith. The powerful band did not have a great deal of subtlety by this era, but it helped to keep the much-maligned genre of fusion alive, mixing the sound of rock with jazz improvising. The 11 selections on this obscure effort were all written or co-composed by Mainieri and Bendik and make up in intensity for their lack of dynamics. Rock listeners will most enjoy this decent, if not too substantial release.

I have just about all the albums by steps/ahead and I think I would probably give them all five stars although some I haven't listened to a great deal yet. One song I particularly liked was lust for life. If you check the NYC web site you find a review of this album that indicates that the saxophonist composed four songs on this album including that one I particularly liked. Besides that, I like his playing. The guy has earned my respect. That review I mentioned indicated that mainieri felt the compositions were an even greater virtue than the instrumental prowess of the steps/ahead group. I would say at the very least, listeners should give due credit for composing excellence. I consider mainieri a first tier jazz composer, and bendik has shown he can compose at that level as well.

There appears to be an overwhelming "old camp" fan base of Steps, regarding other reviewer's opinions. While having enjoyed several of the older recordings and different lineups of players, this recording (NYC)was my first introduction to the group, and understandably my favorite. I cannot understate the deep, soulful emotion being poured out on several of these tracks. I must address the reference to Michael Brecker's absense as noted by another reviewer. Yes, he is to be revered, and I respect him. However, In spirit of a true step forward, this album's sax player, Bendik, is unbelievable. I cannot sit back and watch him be discredited for not being the previous player. Get real! I cannot recall a player who can conjure such emotion while coaxing the strange, twisted sounds he produces. Some of you may understand that a piece of music can touch you so deeply as to bring tears to your eyes. This album truely touches my soul. Not to mention, I am a bassist / Chapman Stick player, inspired by the legendary Tony Levin, who is not normally seen in this genre. His playing naturally is a departure from the standard/bop sound in some ways, but he also does perform some selections on upright, and does them a great justice. If you appreciate not just what was done on previous recordings, but welcome an embracing of new techniques / technology, this album is a perfect, natural transition to the future. Mike Manieri did a fine job of tipping his hat to his original sound and fan base, while enthusiastically embracing new directions. In the true spirit of Steps Ahead, you must open your mind and give this a try. If you simply enjoy the fulfilment of honest, inventive, fresh, inspired music, you need this recording.

World class musicians playing great music!

Track listing:

01 Well, In That Case 5:08
02 Lust For Life 4:16
03 Senegal Calling 4:58
04 Red Neon, Go Or Give 2:48
05 Charanga 5:02
06 Get It 3:15
07 N.Y.C. 5:08
08 Stick Jam 4:54
09 Absolutely Maybe 3:51
10 Festival 5:08
11 Paradiso 3:01


Mike Mainieri - Synthesizer [Midi Vibraharp, Synclavier], Piano [Acoustic], Percussion
Steve Kahn* - Electric Guitar, Acoustic Guitar (tracks: 2 to 9, 11)
Tony Levin - Electric Bass, Chapman Stick
Steve Smith  - Drums (5)
Bendik* - Saxophone, Keyboards
Bruce Martin - Keyboards [Additional], Programmed By [Synclavier], Percussion
Magatte Fall - Percussion [M'beung-m'beung - Rythmic Drum], Talking Drum [Tama]
Abdoulaye Diop - Percussion [Lamb - Bass Drum]



  2. Thank you so much. I've just got the other two also.

  3. Thanks, great album!

  4. dj Mikee: your comments on this album are so very true!
    and indeed you can't compare Bendik and Michael Brecker, but i must admit that Bendik's style of playing is absolutely awesome and really innovative and unique.
    in my opinion Mike Mainieri has discovered a true gem!
    thnx for sharing this album!
    ps i am a bass player too ;-)