The legacy of Mike Mainieri’s and the late Michael Brecker’s Steps Ahead, one of the most inventive groups in 1980s jazz-rock, was delightfully rekindled in a reunion band at Ronnie Scott’s in London this summer. Here’s a stirring orchestral angle on the group’s classic material, rearranged by Michael Abene for Cologne’s famous WDR Big Band, with the sleekly swinging vibraphonist Mainieri still in the driving seat. Don Grolnick’s laconic, Wayne Shorter-like Pools and the soul-funky Blue Montreux fire up scalding tenor-sax forays from Bill Evans (one of the best Breckeresque specialists in this idiom, and the album’s solo star), while the beautiful, country-tinged Self Portrait gets a sumptuous.
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.
Mulatu Astatke already has a legendary status as the father of Ethio Jazz. But he hasn't been content to rest on his laurels. Instead he's forged ahead. This album proves very different from his work with the Heliocentrics (some of whom do feature here), or with the Either/Orchestra – it's an album of what is essentially a meandering, laid-back groove that looks at music from two angles – the Western and the Ethiopian. The former gets to stretch out on cuts like the opener, the reflective "Radcliffe," and "The Way to Nice." Ethiopia raises its head on "I Faram Gami I Faram," which some luscious Addis Ababa singing, a reworking of the style that made Astatke's name, and actually of one of his old compositions.
Steps Ahead (originally known as Steps) is a jazz fusion group. According to the liner notes of the group's debut album, "Steps began as a part-time venture in 1979 at Seventh Avenue South, a New York City nightclub." 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.
This is a very special performance by one of the most popular jazz groups of the early 1980’s. Taped amidst the works of Rodin,Thorvaldsen and countless Roman sculptures, the band plays in the atrium of this world famous sculpture museum - the Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek. It was a comfortable, inspiring location for the musicians and the tracks were personally mixed by the band leader Mike Mainieri.
One of the most popular jazz bands of the early Eighties, Steps Ahead (originally called Steps) was formed in 1979 by vibist Mike Mainieri, and at various times included tenorman Michael Brecker, keyboardists Don Grolnick and Eliane Elias, bassists Eddie Gomez and Darryl Jones and drummers Peter Erskine and Steve Smith, among many other first-rate artists. Steps Ahead's music successfully blended elements of jazz, rock, R&B and fusion, enjoying astonishing worldwide international success in the process.
Originally called Steps when it was formed in 1979 by vibraphonist Mike Mainieri, this group at various times has included tenor saxophonist Michael Brecker; keyboardists Don Grolnick, Eliane Elias, and Rachel Z; guitarist Mike Stern; bassists Eddie Gomez and Darryl Jones; and drummers Peter Erskine and Steve Smith, among others.