Primarily recognized as an award-winning, jazz vibraphonist, Mike Mainieri’s equally remarkable talents as producer, arranger, and composer have contributed to shaping the cutting-edge in music. Throughout his fruitful career - now spanning almost five decades - Mike has collaborated with the world’s most formidable jazz player’s produced numerous albums, and discovered a host of innovative, young talent.
Raised in a family of performers and musicians, Mike’s training began early. At the age of fourteen, his own jazz trio was touring with the Paul Whiteman Orchestra, and by 17 he was playing and arranging for Buddy Rich’s sextet - a tenure which continued up until 1962. During this period, he also played with such legendary artists as Billie Holiday, Dizzy Gillespie, Coleman Hawkins and Wes Montgomery, and at the age of 18 he won the International Jazz Critic’s Award.
As a solo artist, Mike has created and contributed to countless, visionary artistic endeavors. In 1962, he joined the ground-breaking jazz/rock group Jeremy & The Satyrs led by flutist Jeremy Steig. Along with Warren Bernhardt, Donald MacDonald, Adrian Guilery, and Eddie Gomez, The Satyrs jammed at New York’s Club Go Go, and performed with such monumental figures as Frank Zappa, Richie Havens and Jimi Hendrix. During the late ‘60s, this small circle of performers grew into what became known as the White Elephant Orchestra, a 20-piece, all- star, experimental ensemble. The group featured George Young, Frank Vacari, Michael Brecker, and Ronny Cuber - saxes; Jon Faddis, Lew Soloff, and Randy Brecker - trumpets; Barry Rogers, Jon Pierson - trombones; as well as, Steve Gadd, Tony Levin, Donald MacDonald, Warren Bernhardt, Joe Beck, David Spinozza, and Hugh McCracken in the rhythm section. Under Mike’s direction, this jazz/rock big band evolved into a laboratory for experimentation with various musical forms, ideas, and philosophies. From 1969-1972, the White Elephant clan of New York’s finest musicians jammed, and recorded at studios throughout the city, and its energy spawned many musical directions for the decades to follow, including Dreams, Ars Nova, Brecker Brothers, L’Image – and so on.
During the late ‘70s, Mike founded the pioneering jazz/ fusion groups Steps Ahead, which included previous cohorts Michael Brecker, Eddie Gomez, Steve Gadd and Don Grolnick. Delving into contemporary sounds while maintaining experimentation and compositional integrity, Steps Ahead was, and is, a launching-pad for young talent and new musical ideas. Steps Alumni include Peter Erskine, Eliane Elias, Rachel Z, Victor Bailey, Warren Bernhardt, Chuck Loeb, Daryl Jones, Mike Stern and Jimi Tunnel. Other noteworthy collaborations have included recordings with Joe Henderson, Marcus Miller, Joe Lovano, Larry Coryell, and Jim Hall, just to name a few.
As a composer, arranger, and performer, Mike has contributed to over 100 gold and platinum albums. An active participant in the rock and pop scenes, he’s worked with Paul Simon, Linda Ronstadt, Aerosmith, Billy Joel, Janis Ian, James Taylor, Dire Staits and Bonnie Raitt. He’s produced albums for George Benson and Andy Summers, and Steps Ahead alumni, Norweigan saxophonist Bendik, and pianist Rachel Z.
In 1992, Mike brought to bear his vast experience with the creation of NYC Records. An extension of himself, the independent label is a vehicle for exposing new ideas grounded in the jazz idiom. With the hip, fresh sounds of Zachary Breaux and Rachel Z; saxophonists George Garzone and Myron Walden; the eclectic, musical cacophony of Philip DeGruy’s solo guitar; and Mike’s own projects Mike Mainieri, An American Diary series - featuring Joe Lovano, George Garzone, Eddie Gomez, and Peter Erskine - and the ever evolving Steps Ahead group.
Twelve Pieces (2009) (Mike Mainiei Marnix Busstra Quartet) is a finely crafted effort featuring all original compositions that expand the color palate of the principal’s instruments while keeping volume levels out of the rock & roll range. There’s taste and invention, colors and shadings, along with a good diversity when Mainieri plays minimalist-type rhythms or Busstra picks up a sitar or bouzouki. Acoustic double bassist Eric Van Der Westen and drummer Pieter Bast - like Busstra - are from the Netherlands where this band toured extensively, inspiring Mainieri to evolve his sound post-Seventh Avenue South/mean N.Y.C. streets, and away from rhythm & blues.
At times, Busstra has the unmistakable influence of John Scofield shining through, as evident on the low, slow, lazy New Orleans rolled blues “Old Men’s Home,” the tick-tock beat in varying pacings and accents during the twelve-tone-based “All In a Row,” or the funky overdubbed “Don’t Break Step.” Then again, a distinct Eastern Indian feel creeps up within a tango saunter for the pretty and twangy “Old Fashion,” or the resonant “Lost in Little Spain,” with vibes and guitar unison lines with backdrop sitar leading to a modal vamp and uncharacteristic sky church guitar &#-6164;a Jimi Hendrix. “The Same New Story” is also based on the lustful Argentinean tango beat, but more in a light acoustic guitar-framed stance. The lush “Piece” has the underlying rush work of Bast buoying subtle melodies and the insistent bass of Van Der Westen, while “Square Brown” recalls Larry Coryell’s strumming and singing guitars in brotherhood. There’s a ballad of finality in “It’s Done,” a spare, free, atmospheric “Where Am I?,” the adapted Indian vocal children’s song “Kannada,” and Mainieri doing a solo vibes snippet ““Mike’s ‘Piece” in the middle of the ensemble segments.
Mainieri himself is completely supportive of Busstra, and is happily a big and democratic part of this cohesive team.This is an excellent example of modern contemporary jazz music beholden to no vintage traditions, making its way on its own merits, which display a high degree of quality.