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At last, these two long-out-of-print albums are available in a two-disc package from Mike Mainieri’s NYC Records. Steps recorded them (and a third, Smokin’ in the Pit, also available from NYC) for a Japanese label before becoming Steps Ahead and landing a domestic contract. Step By Step and Paradox feature the same lineup, except that Peter Erskine replaces Steve Gadd on the latter. No disrespect to Gadd intended, but Paradox is the superior album. Recorded live at the now-defunct Seventh Avenue South club in 1981, it finds the band stretching out and taking on more adventurous material. Pianist Don Grolnick weighs in with the smoking bossa "NL 4" and the somewhat epic "Four Chords," while vibraphonist/leader Mainieri gives us the dark and mellow "Patch of Blue" and the free-bop extravaganza "The Aleph." The latter appears again at the end of the program as an alternate take, nearly twice as long as the first. (On both versions, be sure to pause and digest the fabulous piano/vibes interlude that precedes Michael Brecker’s tenor solo.) Wrapping up the live set, the band grooves on Brecker’s medium blues "Take a Walk" and bassist Eddie Gomez goes it alone on his composition "Nichka."
By comparison, Step By Step is a bit less inspired and has a certain late-70s slickness to it, although the playing is still quite good. Clocking in at around 36 minutes, the record certainly recalls the days of the vinyl era, when albums were usually short and sweet affairs. Mainieri’s contributions are the poppy "Kyoto," the waltz "Belle" (featuring nice arco playing by Gomez), and the funky Latin "Bullet Train." Two Grolnick pieces bookend the program: first the swinging "Uncle Bob," and last "Six Persimmons," a beautiful ballad that would later appear simply as "Persimmons" on 1990’s Weaver of Dreams (Blue Note). This is essential Don Grolnick — for years nearly impossible to find, now readily available. Fans of the late pianist and composer in particular will want this in their collection.
Track Listing: CD1: Uncle Bob; Kyoto; Belle; Bullet Train; Six Persimmons. CD2: NL 4; The Aleph; Patch of Blue; Four Chords' Take a Walk' Nichka; The Aleph (alternate take).
Personnel: Michael Brecker: tenor sax; Steve Gadd: drums (CD1); Eddie Gomez: bass; Don Grolnick: piano; Mike Mainieri, vibraphone; Peter Erskine: drums (CD2).