“Delicate touches morph into heated runs with relative ease. The underlying harmonics are always present.”
Mike Mainieri has been integrating the vibraphone into various settings. As a jazz sideman, he has worked with Dizzy Gillespie, Coleman Hawkins, Buddy Rich and Wes Montgomery. He is most recognized as the leader of the jazz fusion group, Steps Ahead. An eclectic resume includes playing with Laura Nyro and Dire Straits. Restless and creative, he records and performs tirelessly, even in his seventies.
In 2009, he collaborated with Dutch guitarist Marnix Busstra on the critically acclaimed release, Twelve Pieces. The Mike Mainieri/Marnix Busstra Quartet subsequently toured in support of the album. Recorded live at three venues in Belgium and The Netherlands, Trinary Motion/Live In Europe is a generous (nearly two hours) set of a talented, cohesive quartet. With a predominance of original compositions (many from the studio album), the quartet is free to explore various rhythms, tone shading and melody interpretation.
CD 1 kicks off with an original, “Piece”. Following a pulsating bass/drum intro, Busstra enters on electric guitar. His solos are free-form, but not fragmented. Later Mainieri adds his touch on vibes. His ability to change tones and pacing is uncanny. Delicate touches morph into heated runs with relative ease. The underlying harmonics are always present.
A certain highlight is “Kannada”, a rearrangement of an Indian children’s song. Busstra switches to bouzouki (an acoustic stringed lute whose origins are in Greece), as this simple, emotive melody is sketched in rich tones with precision and lyrical imagery. Mainieri expands the melody with rolling accents. The innate folk resonance is never overshadowed by the jazzy coloration. The ensemble shifts from tighter structures (“Don’t Break Step”) to lengthy improvisation (“Lost In Little Spain”). On the latter, bassist Eric van der Westen offers a wide range (bow and finger plucking) of soloing.
Disc 2 opens with a slower, bluesy vamp (“Three Years, Three Months, Three Weeks, Three Days”). Both Mainieri and Brussta handle the introduction and first verses in unison. Bast lays down a nice brush stroke while der Westen feeds a spooky bass line into the jam. This eventually leads into an extended “cool” jazz solo on vibraphone that is sizzling. This might be the best cut on the CD.
The title track is a change of pace. Mainieri stretches out on a very melodic lead while the band maintains a restrained, rhythm pulse. The only cover, Joe Zawinul’s “Young And Fine” percolates with bop/fusion intensity. Mainieri’s notation is unusual and briskly executed. Busstra uses a distorted guitar solo, and the rhythm section is flawless. A spiritual ballad, “The Secret Lake” showcases fluid guitar harmonics and a pensive bass solo.
The finale, “Square Brown/From Father To A Friend” is up tempo and acoustic. The piece ebbs and flows starting with Busstra on bouzouki. Mainieri chimes in with improvisational touches, as the performance takes on an avant-garde/ fusion aesthetic. There are numerous tempo shifts and all four instrumentalists interact with fluency. Trinary Motion/Live In Europe is refreshing and gets better with each play.