Downbeat – John Ephland

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“… a setting that rivals his best work with Steps Ahead”

From song to song, Twelve Pieces brims with a kind of forward motion that suggest this quartet is not only well rehearsed but is thorougly at home with the material. Vibraphonist Mike Mainieri hooks up with Dutch guitarist Marnix Busstra, bassist Eric van der Westen and drummer Pieter Bast for 12 songs by Busstra that are similar yet clearly different from one another.

To this listener, and with due respect to Mainieri and Busstra, it’s almost impossible to not think of the Gary Burton/Pat Metheny pairing. And while Burton and Metheny still perform together, their collaborations seem less from group mindset and more as two virtuosos playing with other high-profile musicians. With Twelve Pieces, though, we get to hear Mainieri in a setting that rivals his best work with Steps Ahead, his exceptional four-mallet playing in synch with Busstra’s alternating soft and rough tones, van der Westen and Bast reading the leaders’ moves whether it’s a ballad, an up-tempo tune or anything in between.

The album begins onconventionally, with a gentle samba,”Old Fashion”. It’s as if the group wants to warm up, easing into the set, wich actually reflects more of” Old Fashion”than just about anything else that follows. The form of the song anything else that follows. The form of the song is interesting, with its pretty melodie, slight arrangement with few unisono lines, both Mainieri and Busstra taking the room to maneuver in their solos. Then again, with “Don’t Break Step” we suddenly get some funk, Busstra this time realling John Scofield, the two leaders living up to the title’s meaning with loads of unison lines on this medium-tempo frolic. Echoes of John Abercrombie ars reflected through the mysterious modal piece “ Lost In Spain”, Busstra’s guitar work giving the song its distinctive imprint, Mainieri’s vibes equally dreamy.

John Ephland