Most Jazz educators are enterprising players in their own right, and many have an understandable urge to plunge into the far–flung ocean of performance and splash around from time to time. Trumpeter Bob Lark, whose day gig is coordinator of Jazz Studies at Chicago’s DePaul University (and whose resumé includes a doctorate in Jazz performance from the University of North Texas), gets his feet wet with First Steps, on which his capable shipmates include the highly regarded tenor saxophonist Bob Mintzer, the less well–known but no less accomplished trombonist/arranger Paul McKee, and an able–bodied Chicago–area rhythm section whose bassist, Reed, is a three–year starter with the DePaul Jazz Ensemble. A second tenor, the irrepressible Mark Colby, makes a high–powered guest appearance on “The Call,” the fourth of Lark’s five original compositions. Completing the session are Thelonious Monk’s stutter–stepping “Evidence” and the time–honored standards “Alone Together” and “There Is No Greater Love” (the last animated by the free–and–easy spirit that suits it so well). Lark’s candid post–bop compositions establish a durable framework for improvisation, while McKee’s charts (“Evidence,” “Alone Together”) are equally effective. Lark has some admirable moments in the solo spotlight (especially on “Ravenswood,” “No Greater Love” and “Evidence”), as do McKee, Novak and Mintzer (who makes his most emphatic statements on the standards). First Steps is truly a handsome package, with all its component parts tucked neatly into place, yet lacking the spark of singularity that would set it apart from the many other ships that are sailing in the same crowded mainstream waters. Simply put, this is no–frills contemporary Jazz performed with ample know–how by five musicians who know how.