Steps Ahead (originally known as Steps) is a jazz fusion group and the brainchild of vibraphonist Mike Mainieri. According to the liner notes of the group's 1983 debut album (for worldwide release), entitled Steps Ahead, "Steps began as a part-time venture in 1979 at Seventh Avenue South, a New York City nightclub." The group began releasing recordings in Japan as far back as 1980.
The line-up for the Steps Ahead album consisted of Mainieri, the late Michael Brecker (tenor sax), Eliane Elias (piano), Peter Erskine (drums), and Eddie Gomez (bass).
The group's distinguished alumni also include Dennis Chambers, Steve Gadd, Warren Bernhardt, Rachel Z, Chuck Loeb, Victor Bailey, Tony Levin, Darryl Jones, Mike Stern, Richard Bona, and many others.
Brecker and Mainieri are featured on the Dire Straits album Brothers in Arms. For rock listeners, the albums Steps Ahead and Modern Times (1984, with Bernhardt replacing Elias in the main line-up, and other guest musicians appearing in limited roles) are a great bridge into a kind of jazz that is energetic and powerful. Reflecting the cooperative, ensemble nature of the band, the Modern Times album included compositions by Mainieri, Brecker, Erskine, and Bernhardt.
According to the website NYC Records, which include's Mainieri's biographical sketch and touring schedule with Steps Ahead, the 2007 instantiation of Steps Ahead includes: Mainieri (vibes), Bill Evans (sax; not to be confused with the late jazz pianist also named Bill Evans), Bryan Baker (guitar), Anthony Jackson (bass), and Steve Smith (drums), a former member of the rock group Journey. On some stops of the tour, Etienne Mbappe is listed as filling in for Jackson.
Somebody gave me a cassette recording several years ago of Modern Times by a group I had never heard of called Steps Ahead. I had no liner notes and so could only guess at who was playing. Being a musician involved in playing jazz at the time and having listened to all the major "candy jazz" or "fusion" type bands, I found "Modern Times" to be completely unique in form and approach. What I heard was a unique blend of jazz chordal harmony mixed with complex contemporary rhythms that had a discipline all its own. It was far removed from the garden- variety compositions that featured self-indulgent prolonged solos and lazy "head arrangement"-type playing that had surfaced in all the other groups. Gone were the "hip" over-simplified melodies with their predictable kicks and safe melodies. Suddenly, I thought there was hope. Alas, all other Steps Ahead CD's I have sampled, although better than most, have deserted their own precedent for unique, truly listenable and groundbreaking music. "Modern Times" still is a standout, and holds up well even in the new millenium.