JJ 12/83: Steps Ahead: Steps Ahead

Forty years ago Mark Gilbert welcomed the new manifestation of cool embodied in the deceptive restraint of Mike Mainieri's quintet. First published in Jazz Journal December 1983


Before this release, Steps Ahead were know simply as Steps; this is the band’s first world-wide issue, though not their first album. Three other albums have been released by Nippon Columbia in Japan, where the group have enjoyed considerable popularity since they formed in NYC in 1979.

British listeners were able to hear Steps at the Capital Radio Jazz Festival at Knebworth in 1982, and those who enjoyed what they heard will probably be pleased with this issue.

Steps Ahead produce a sound which is comparatively restrained. Some would interpret their tasteful understatement as cool, but within their own frame of reference they stir up plenty of turbulence. Also to their credit is that the compositions are contemporary originals mostly written by band members. However, their overall style is not an immaculate conception: oblique references are made to Weather Report and the less well-known Stone Alliance, among others.

The personnel are of course the genuine article, and their performances are seamlessly professional. The dreamlike Pools, written by Don Grolnick, has a subtle power and engenders a warming solo by Gomez and a masterly excursion for Brecker, showing both to be in full charge of their respective styles and techniques. Generally, Mainieri is at his most telling in the ensemble, where his eerie presence is an essential part of the group’s sound; no criticism is intended of his polished solos. Pianist Eliane Elias is ‘introduced’ on this album, and she proves herself well up to the job on the buoyant Latin rhythms of Islands. Peter Erskine is in his element throughout the record and his light, dancing patterns are unobtrusive but indispensable.

The titles add up to a well-balanced programme: There should no longer be any need to defend stylistic mixes and Steps Ahead have judiciously forged an impressive identity for themselves. Whether essaying the urgent swing of Loxodrome or Northern Cross or the Latin rhythms of Brecker’s excellent Both Sides this is distinctively Steps Ahead.

Pools; Islands; Loxodrome (23.03) – Both Sides Of The Coin; Skyward Bound; Northern Cross; Trio (An Improvisation) (23.35)
Michael Brecker (ts); Eliane Elias (p); Peter Erskine (d); Eddie Gomez (b); Mike Mainieri (vib/synthivibe/m). Recorded New York 1982/83.
(Elektra Musician 96-0168-1)