Although the jazz quintet Steps Ahead is just beginning to establish its identity, several members of the band, notably saxophonist Michael Brecker, drummer Peter Erskine and vibraphonist Mike Mainieri, alone possess the kind of drawing power that ensured the sellout at Blues Alley last night.
Ironically, the three are best known for their work in fusion jazz. By contrast, Steps Ahead favors an acoustic format over electronic gear, an approach that should strike many veteran listeners as a refreshing change of heart.
The band's music, however, is not without contemporary appeal. On the contrary, many of the pieces the group performed were full of light, engaging melodies and warm textures, often enhanced by Mainieri's shimmering vibes and bassist Eddie Gomez's firm yet sensitive touch.
More often than not, though, these melodies were given weight, reshaped and forcefully expanded upon by Brecker on tenor saxophone, who has seldom been heard to better advantage. He consistently produced the big, burly tone and played in an aggressive manner that was occasionally echoed by the young and promising pianist Eliane Elias . If the band has a weak link, it is Erskine, whose overly busy accompaniment unnecessarily drew attention to itself during some of the more intimate passages.