Switzerland may be a very small country tucked away in lower Europe, but, as Wikipedia informs us, it holds very high marks in such matters as nominal wealth per adult (highest in the world), life expectancy (second highest), government transparency, civil liberties, and human development. Hardly surprising, then, that the republic would produce such a sparkling assemblage of 16-25 year olds as The Swiss Youth Jazz Orchestra, well helmed by Fritz K. Reynold. The 'Steps' in the release's title derives in the long-lived and perhaps not yet defunct Steps Ahead band (most recent performances: 2005). The band was a top-drawer ensemble featuring a wide array of members - Mike Mainieri (founder), Randy Brecker, Chuck Loeb, Tony Levin, Mike Stern, and many others—and was lauded as a new wrinkle by many but dismissed by some as 'fusion lite'. Welllllll, sure, no Mahavishnu Orchestra they but no Kenny Gee either, y'all.
Whatever side one came down on, it was an impressive combo whose work couldn't help but be attractive to younger players. Live, however, is not a take on the band's oeuvre but instead ruminations on projections of their essence and drive, only one cut taken from the ensemble's catalogue, the rest penned by Reynold. The Orchestra is tight and spirited, providing energetic, solid, and imaginative backing for the soloists: Brecker, Mainieri, Christian Jacob, and others. It's obvious, too, the admiration the pros have for the ensemble, delivering many excellent step-outs. All the songs are long and easily provide plenty of space for the flexing of muscles. Jacobs, for instance, on piano inserts a dynamite section in A New Kind, Rodney Holmes further on laying out a sparkling and powerful drum solo.
The 13-member Orchestra is so disciplined that it works intimately with many top players year-in and year-out, including Steps Ahead members, everyone greatly interested in maintaining jazz as remaining as much an education as an art, the heart and driving force of the project. I mean, seriously, does anyone think for a moment that Ellington couldn't have held his own in music theory against any classicalist? Well, that's the sort of mindset present here, and the interplay of seasoned and upcoming minds and chops assures us that the future is well preserved in today's acumen. There's over an hour of material in Future Steps: Live at Jazaar Festival 2014, and not a second lags or stalls, everything as upbeat and oft surprising as it is knowledgeable and fully imbued with its own history.
Edited by: David N. Pyles
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