Steps Ahead: Steps Ahead

This 1983 release was the U.S. recording debut of the jazz supergroup Steps Ahead. The band started out in the late 1970’s in New York City, consisting of Michael Brecker on saxophone, Mike Mainieri on vibes, Don Grolnick on piano, Eddie Gomez on bass, and Steve Gadd on drums. They recorded three albums as Steps for the Better Days/Nippon Columbia label that were only released in Japan, with Peter Erskine replacing Steve Gadd on the last of these. Since a different pop group trademarked the name “Steps”, the group changed their name to Steps Ahead and released this album on Elektra Nonesuch. It was produced by the band’s former pianist, Don Grolnick, who also composed the standout opening cut, Pools, which has a become a classic. Taking his place at the piano was the young Brazilian pianist, Eliane Elias, who was still in her early twenties and made her recording debut on this album.

The band absolutely sparkles on this release. Four of the five band members, along with Grolnick, contributed compositions to it. Michael Brecker turned in a typical stellar performance. He was usually heard in a more electric, funk-based setting. This recording, along with Chick Corea’s Three Quartets album (which included Gomez and Gadd), really showcased his abilities in a more traditional acoustic setting and helped establish him as the dominant voice on tenor saxophone of the last quarter century.

I had the privilege of seeing this group play these pieces live right before this album was released. It was an unforgettable night of jazz being played at the highest level. This album was a great example of contemporary acoustic jazz that was relevant, fresh, and accessible, without watering down the music for commercial appeal; a welcome contrast to the acoustic jazz scene since then, which seems to look backwards and be content serving up lukewarm versions of Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellington knock-offs. It took the jazz world by storm and landed the band at the top of most industry polls by the end of the year. (Buy it here.)

Suggested Viewing:

Steps Ahead: Copenhagen Live (1983)

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