Is it appropriate to describe a vibes player as working up a head of steam? The essentially ethereal quality of the vibraphone may seem to suggest not, but acclaimed veteran player Mike Mainieri, reprising the music of his influential fusion outfit Steps Ahead in the frequently full-steam-ahead company of the SNJO, could certainly bring a dazzlingly kinetic energy to the instrument.
The tone was set by the big and beaty Pools, a number by Mainieri’s old collaborator Don Grolnick, vibes initially chiming lazily over whispering cymbals before responses from brass and reeds and a muscular tenor sax break from SNJO director, Tommy Smith, and soon Mainieri’s mallets were whirring fiercely at the vibes’ top end.
The programme, mainly Mainieri’s own compositions, displayed both the variety and melodic qualities of his music, such as the lovely, bolero-like stealth of Los Dos Lorettas, opening with the atmospheric echoing of phrases between vibes and pianist Pete Johnstone, or the almost folky sounding riffing of Okapi.
As well as Smith, the SNJO’s soloists impressed, including a new young trumpeter, Sean Gibbs, with seasoned members such as saxophonist Martin Kershaw and trumpeter Tom MacNiven both stepping forward in the big-band swing of Tee Bag and saxophonist Konrad Wisznieswki letting rip over the rollicking walking bass of Steppish.
Drummer Alyn Cosker unleashed a mighty solo during the closer, the suitably fast-travelling Bullet Train, while Mainieri stood back, looking very much like a man quietly enjoying himself.