Cofounded by vibraphonist Mike Mainieri and saxophonist Michael Brecker in 1979, Steps and later Steps Ahead saw their bold blend of acoustic-electric fusion and modern jazz draw listeners for the next 25 years or so. Mainieri provided the catchy, steady-grooving tunes, and the group became a launching pad for a long list of top-rank players, many of whom subsequently gained even higher profiles as leaders of their own projects.
Steppin’ Out might be called a reboot, with the vibraphonist joined by various members of the Steps/Steps Ahead universe: saxophonist Bill Evans, guitarist Chuck Loeb (who died in July), bassist Tom Kennedy and drummer Steve Smith. Even better, the five are accompanied by the WDR Big Band Cologne for new versions of the band’s tunes, and the familiar material comes off as reinvigorated rather than simply retrofitted. (True story: Way back in 1963, Mainieri and WDR arranger/conductor Michael Abene, a pianist, played a six-week stint in Las Vegas with Buddy Rich’s sextet.)