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Steps, Smokin' in the Pit (2 CDs, 73:07 and 76:24); NYC 6027-2, 
1999 (reissue)
Mike Mainieri, An American Diary: The Dreamings (72:19); NYC 
6026-2, 1997
NYC Records
Phone: 212-627-9426 or 800-266-4NYC
E-mail: mmvibe@earthlink.net
Cyberhome: www.nycrecords.com

        These two NYC Records releases document the musical evolution of 
label founder and vibraphonist Mike Mainieri. Smokin' in the 
Pit, a reissue of a hard-to-find double live album by Mainieri's 
jazz supergroup Steps, is stuck in its late 70s moment. It feels like 
cheap thrills compared to Mainieri's most recent solo record, An 
American Diary: The Dreamings, which possesses a timeless quality 
and manages, despite its wild eclecticism, to tell a coherent and 
deeply personal story. This album, the second in a series, confirms 
Mainieri's status as one of our most imaginative artists.
	The playing on Smokin' in the Pit is impressive, but 
some of the material is marred by a lack of subtlety and dynamics. 
Eddie Gomez's bass is way too high in the mix and Steve Gadd's 
drumming is rather stiff, especially on the swing tempos. Joe 
Henderson's "Recordame," which was unavailable on LP, is given a 
weird, disco-like treatment. But newly added alternate takes of the 
two roof-raising sambas, "Fawlty Tenors" and "Not Ethiopia," showcase 
some fine playing all around. And fans of the late, great Don 
Grolnick will want this reissue if only for two previously unreleased 
Grolnick compositions, "Uncle Bob" and "Momento," the latter an 
unaccompanied piano solo. These are indeed worth the price of 
admission, as are Mainieri's three delightful ballad features, "Lover 
Man," "Song to Seth," and "Soul Eyes."
	The Dreamings is the work of a more refined Mike 
Mainieri. His principal players are saxophonist George Garzone, 
bassist Marc Johnson, and supple and swinging drummer Peter Erskine, 
who took over from Steve Gadd back when Steps became Steps Ahead. 
These four are joined by a circulating cast of guest musicians. Each 
track is a wholly new experience, distinguished by unexpected timbres 
and colors. Especially noteworthy are George Garzone's clarinet on 
"One Night In Paradise," Erik Friedlander's cello on "Planting Rice 
Is Never Fun," Simon Seven's didjeradu on "The Dreamings," and Arto 
Tuncboyan's sazabo on "Dear, My Friend (The Gift)."
	Mainieri's goal was to explore his musical upbringing in an 
American immigrant family, as well as his later experiences as a 
traveling musician. His first American Diary (NYC, 1995) 
included music by composers ranging from Aaron Copland to Frank 
Zappa. This diary entry crosses more exotic terrain: folk material 
from the Philippines and Yemen, as well as original pieces inspired 
by Australian aborigines, gypsies, and the Navajo and Apache tribes. 
Mainieri's use of the term "American" is therefore expansive, and 
subtly provocative. But the session never comes across as stilted 
political correctness or aimless "world" music. It swings. And in so 
doing, it communicates with the listener in a way that is entirely 
genuine and unaffected.
~David R. Adler, 2/1/00

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