Steve Yeager has had successful overlapping careers as a performer, composer, producer and educator. In fact, his work in several fields has kept him so busy that it is sometimes overlooked how talented a jazz vibraphonist he has always been. Vibraharp, his fourth album as a leader, finally puts him back in the spotlight.
Since graduating from St. John’s University and attending the Berklee College Of Music, Steve Yeager has taught at the University of Minnesota and the Minneapolis Media Institute, written and produced a countless amount of music for movies, television and multimedia, and has consistently uplifted the projects of others. He had previously led three albums (1998’s April Sessions, Suite MJQ from 2000, and New Groove Blues with organist Tony Monaco in 2003), in addition to playing piano on the recent Poetry Of Sara Teasdale (with Katy Vernon).
But Vibraharp is arguably his finest jazz record to date. The set of 11 originals has plenty of melodic music that is often easy-listening but never sleepy, and filled with subtle creativity. All of the selections feature a very attractive group sound that is sometimes a little reminiscent of the George Shearing Quintet. Joined by a supportive rhythm section with some solo space for pianist Adi Yeshaya, keyboardist-organist Kevin Gastonguay, and guitarist David Singley, Yeager is also backed by various other musicians along the way including a string section arranged by Yeshaya; Lucia Newell takes an effective vocal on “Promise Of Love.”
To name a few highlights, “Monte Carlo” has an appealing tango feel, “Catwalk” includes a rhythmic melody that does conjure up the walk of a cat before it becomes a vehicle for Yeager’s swinging vibes, and the bluesy “Breaktime” has a particularly likable melody and a Latin tinge. Other selections include a funky “Sideswipe,” the pretty ballad “Kendall Jaxons,” a sensuous “Secret Ending,” the cinematic “Firedance,” and the quietly dramatic closer “Slow Death.”
Throughout Vibraharp, Steve Yeager creates vibraphone solos that are accessible yet a little unpredictable, swinging hard in his own style. This set is easily recommended to anyone who likes laidback straight ahead jazz and the sound of a masterful vibraphonist.
Scott Yanow, jazz journalist/historian 9/28/2021