“This is an excellent example of modern contemporary jazz music beholden to no vintage traditions, making its way on its own merits, which display a high degree of quality.”
Mike Mainieri’s work as a leader or alongside his friends in Steps Ahead has never vaulted him to the top of the critics’ polls, despite the fact that he is unquestionably a gifted vibraphonist and staunchly confident contemporary figurehead in the fusion-to-neo-bop movement. Perhaps this recording, with the equally talented guitarist Marnix Busstra, will allow both musicians the due they deserve.
This is a finely crafted effort featuring all original compositions that expand the color palate of the principal’s instruments while keeping volume levels out of the rock & roll range. There’s taste and invention, colors and shadings, along with a good diversity when Mainieri plays minimalist-type rhythms or Busstra picks up a sitar or bouzouki. Acoustic double bassist Eric Van Der Westen and drummer Pieter Bast — like Busstra — are from the Netherlands where this band toured extensively, inspiring Mainieri to evolve his sound post-Seventh Avenue South/mean N.Y.C. streets, and away from rhythm & blues.
At times, Busstra has the unmistakable influence of John Scofield shining through, as evident on the low, slow, lazy New Orleans rolled blues “Old Men’s Home,” the tick-tock beat in varying pacings and accents during the 12-tone-based “All In a Row,” or the funky overdubbed “Don’t Break Step.” Then again, a distinct Eastern Indian feel creeps up within a tango saunter for the pretty and twangy “Old Fashion,” or the resonant “Lost in Little Spain,” with vibes and guitar unison lines with backdrop sitar leading to a modal vamp and uncharacteristic sky church guitar à la Jimi Hendrix. “The Same New Story” is also based on the lustful Argentinean tango beat, but more in a light acoustic guitar-framed stance. The lush “Piece” has the underlying rush work of Bast buoying subtle melodies and the insistent bass of Van Der Westen, while “Square Brown” recalls Larry Coryell’s strumming and singing guitars in brotherhood. There’s a ballad of finality in “It’s Done,” a spare, free, atmospheric “Where Am I?,” the adapted Indian vocal children’s song “Kannada,” and Mainieri doing a solo vibes snippet “”Mike’s ‘Piece”‘” in the middle of the ensemble segments.
Mainieri himself is completely supportive of Busstra, and is happily a big and democratic part of this cohesive team. This is an excellent example of modern contemporary jazz music beholden to no vintage traditions, making its way on its own merits, which display a high degree of quality.
by Michael G. Nastos