Mike Mainieri: Straphangin'


Mike Mainieri: Straphangin'


Mike Mainieri (vibes, xylophone)


An American Dairy: The Dreamings (NYC 6026-2)

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Mike Mainieri (vibes, xylophone), George Garzone (tenor sax), Marc Johnson (bass), Peter Erskine (drums).

Composed by Mike Mainieri


Recorded: New York, 1997


Rating: 97/100 (learn more)

As vital and inquisitive a musician as Mike Mainieri has been over the years, best known as leader of Steps Ahead, it's hard to believe he is turning 70 in 2008. Yet at age 15, he played on Paul Whiteman's radio show with his own trio, and was a Buddy Rich sideman from 1956 to 1963. He also won the New Star Award in the 1961 Down Beat Critics Poll. Rich, in fact, urged him to Americanize his Italian name to Mann, and therein lies a tale. His first An American Diary release in 1995 (with Joe Lovano), Mainieri wrote, "was a project that put me in touch with the dichotomy of musical tastes in my family." The second project, The Dreamings with George Garzone, he "dedicated to my family who introduced me to the art of storytelling, which they drew upon through their nomadic Italian and Sephardic wanderings and enriched my American heritage."

The track "Straphangin'" is described by Mainieri as "inspired by subway folklore. As a child, I would observe the body motions and facial expressions as my fellow straphangers would dance and bounce their way through the city." This led to a "fascination with puppets," which he would make and dress and "then attach their feet to vibe mallets and stage shows over the front of my instrument." He calls drummer Peter Erskine "the motorman of this particular ride." Erskine initiates a swaying subway car rhythm before Mainieri and Garzone play the choppy, staccato theme. Garzone's long breakneck tenor solo is intensely creative, with hurtling lines, slurred notes, dissonant wails and even a simulated train horn at one point, rhythmically exciting overall and relentlessly paced. Mainieri is less hurried but sizzling nonetheless, expertly on xylophone at first before switching to vibes, where only his vibrato differentiates his precise extended runs and expressive percussive attack. Erskine solos with great command and feeling before vibes and tenor ride the train to its final destination. Although nothing like "Take the 'A' Train," "Straphangin'" is just as invigorating in its own unique way.

Reviewer: Scott Albin

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