Steps Ahead, Live at the Blue Note

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It appears that Steps Ahead is back, and possibly better than ever. The lineup is simply a dream: founder Mike Mainieri on vibes, Bob Berg on tenor and soprano saxophones, Joey Calderazzo on piano, Scott Colley on bass, and Jeff "Tain" Watts on drums. The new, improved Steps Ahead begins its first February 23 set with "D Minor," then tackles a frenetic Copland piano sonata excerpt, then quiets it down with "Los Dos Lorettas." Now, all of these selections Mainieri has either performed or recorded under his own name. Is this Steps Ahead or the Mike Mainieri show? Well, who really cares. This repertoire seems tailor-made for these phenomenal players, all of whom turn out solos that overflow with refined yet fierce swing. The set continues with one of the group’s early masterpieces, "Pools." Mainieri is then on his own for a sparkling solo arrangement of "Lush Life." When the full band returns to the stage, they launch into a Bob Berg-penned up-tempo burner that leaves the audience, if not the band, breathless. This could be the best Steps Ahead lineup yet. Let’s hope it remains intact for at least an album or two.

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