NYC Records / Buzz Music Records 6042
Jazz vibraphonist Mike Mainieri’s wide-ranging career as a recording and performing artist since 1960 includes appearances with George Benson and Pat Martino, as well as some surprising turns, like his work on Dire Straits’ Love over Gold (1982). His fusion group, Steps Ahead, included at various points Michael Brecker, Steve Gadd, Eddie Gomez, Don Grolnick, and other jazz musicians who made their reputations in the ’70s and ’80s. Mainieri and Dutch guitarist Marnix Busstra established their current quartet last year, when they recorded Twelve Pieces. Marnix and the remaining musicians, Eric van der Westen and Pieter Bastis, are well respected in Europe, where they recorded Trinary Motion / Live in Europe during a 2008 tour.
Busstra wrote all but four of the tunes on this two-disc set, and his themes let the musicians show their impressive abilities in different settings. “Don’t Break Step” is an old-fashioned swinger, and Mainieri cuts loose with a nicely developed solo that evokes Milt Jackson. “Strega” is angular and modern -- not quite fusion, though Busstra’s solo uses electronic effects. The tune has a leisurely surface, but it develops an edge thanks largely to van der Westen’s grounded bass, which sounds as if a hint of distortion was added. “Piece” has a touch of the funk of John Scofield’s collaborations with Medeski, Martin, and Wood, while “Lost in Little Spain” manages to be convincing jazz/rock fusion without sounding dated. For all Busstra’s considerable talents as a soloist, it’s his writing on Trinary Motion that consistently demands attention.
Mainieri gives Joe Zawinul’s “Young and Fine” a masterful turn, with a loose, upbeat groove that at first feels more traditional than the original Weather Report version. But there’s nothing stodgy or old fashioned about the playing, especially van der Westen’s fluid, driving bass. Mainieri and Busstra pull so many new things from Zawinul’s melody that the song feels renewed. Mainieri is probably at least 30 years younger than the other musicians on this disc, but he’s an indefatigable player who never runs out of ideas. His two compositions, “All in a Row” and the title track, are as involving and fresh as Busstra’s. Bastis and van der Westen provide a solid foundation that keeps the music centered and lets the primary soloists spin off with confidence.
Trinary Motion crackles with the energy of live performance, and the players are locked into each other, open to possibilities and reacting to the moment. The set is smartly paced, and the nearly two hours of music contain so much variety and virtuosity that the time moves by quickly. Olivier Schutte recorded the performances in Belgium and the Netherlands, and Norbert Sollewijn Gelpke mixed and mastered the set at Studio Nopol in Amstelveen, Netherlands. The recording fully captures the dimensions of the small clubs where the music was performed. Some occasional distortion in the bass leads me to believe it was too closely recorded or, perhaps, the strings were too low to the neck. Despite that flaw, Trinary Motion / Live in Europe is a very enjoyable listen.
. . . Joseph Taylor