Note: this release was originally purchased as an LP, later replaced by a CD.
While not as good as its predecessor, 1984's Modern Times, this is still a solid fusion effort. The writing is weaker, but the performances may be stronger. The biggest difference, however, is the band's switch to a more synthesized sound, especially saxophonist Michael Brecker's use of the Steiner EWI (Electronic Wind Instrument) and Oberheim Xpander. After listening to this album for more than 25 years, I've grown accustomed to the (now dated) sounds and they don't bother me. I appreciate the group's attempt to keep up with the current trends in technology, but I'm glad that era has passed. The group would continue to record with an ever changing line-up, but after buying this album's 1989 follow-up on cassette, I was done with them. That follow-up album, titled N.Y.C., has not been replaced with a CD.
Peak on the US Billboard Top 200 chart: Did not chart
Tracks: I like some tracks better than others, but this is one of those albums that I listen to from start to finish, if for nothing more than the sake of nostalgia. My favorite track is the opener, Trains. There's a decent take on Ellington's In A Sentimental Mood; its fault being that it is entirely synthesized. I would have loved to have heard these guys cut that chart on tenor sax and piano. I also like All The Tea In China and Something I Said. With vocals by Dianne Reeves, Magnetic Love is a decent pop track (complete with 1986-era drum machine programming), but it is sorely out of place on this album.
Personal Memory Associated with this CD: Purchased upon its release in the summer of 1986, I listened to the album frequently in preparation for a triumphant return to college that fall as "hipster, cutting-edge jazz guy." That didn't quite work out as I had imagined - my return was neither triumphant nor was I ever hip. However, there was a graduate assistant that called me into his tiny office that September and told me he had something for me to hear. He played this album while I smiled knowingly and burst his balloon by telling him I had already heard it. But we listened to the whole album, discussed the music and that was a rare, enjoyable occurrence. Later in the year, I was taking drum set lessons and, during practice sessions, would play this album on my Walkman while I attempted to drum along. I was using the music more as a metronome than attempting to actually duplicate the intricacies of Peter Erskine's playing.
My fraternity big brother purchased this album on CD, so it was one of the first albums I ever heard on CD and after hearing it on LP for months, the improvement in sound (particularly the dynamic contrast) just blew me away.
I saw Michael Brecker at a clinic/concert in Austin in the spring of 2000. I almost took my Steps Ahead CDs with me to have them autographed. I don't know why I didn't do that.
Previously revisited for the blog:
Modern Times (1984)