Vibraharp  / 2020

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

New Groove Blues / 2014

 

John Stevenson e-jazz news.com

Anyone accompanying a jazz organist deserves recognition. With its pedals and multiple decks of keys, the organ is a monster that can sonically devour the rest of the ensemble.

Vibist Steve Yeager appears to have gotten the balance just right on his most recent offering with B-3 exponent Tony Monaco, guitarist Clay Moore and drummer Phil Hey.

Gifted with a sure-footed sense of melody and a dynamic approach, Yeager handles the material (among the tunes the beautiful original "Lisa") magisterially. 

Jazz Improv Magazine

Reviewed by Vince Giantomasi

Vibraphonist Steve Yeager has put together a unique ensemble for his third release, New Groove Blues on the Collective Vibes Records label. Joining Steve on the album is B-3 Hammond organist, Tony Monaco, guitarist, Clay Moore and drummer Phil Hey. This blend of instruments is intended to “provide a texture that is unique and instantly appealing,” as Yeager points out in his bio.

The CD includes seven tunes by such composers as Harburg & Lane, Count Basie, Burt Bacharach & Hal David, Kenny Dorham, John Lewis, George Wallington, “Baby Face” Willette and two originals by Yeager.

He opens the album with a swinging up-tempo arrangement of “Old Devil Moon.” Here we find Moore and/or Monaco harmonizing the melody lines with Yeager, which plays quite well and has a very pleasant appeal. Tony Monaco has a chance to show his speed and chops on this tune. He is a fine B-3 technician and does not lack the soulful touch, which is expected from a player of that instrument. His bass work is superb.

On Count Basie’s “Easy Does It” Yeager and Herb Pilhofer, both of who are the arrangers for the CD have the band playing this tune as it was intended. It is easy-flowing with a catchy head-bobbing beat by the guitar and drums that strum along with smooth time and quarter note chords. Monaco harmonizes behind the vibes and does a call and response with Yeager right into his solo, which is laid-back and right in line with the tune. The only drawback to this tune is that half of his solo (on one of the two keyboards) is barely audible. The mix on this tune is not up to par.

Yeager selected “Godchild” as his third tune on the CD a number written by George Wallington. This native of Sicily was one of the most prolific writers of modern jazz “standards” who is best known for this tune, “Godchild” and “Lemon Drop,” two tunes that were favorites of big band leaders, Stan Kenton, Chubby Jackson, Woody Herman and Miles Davis. Very few recordings of Wallington exist with him as the leader but he has worked behind the likes of Dizzy Gillespie (1944 at the Onyx Club), Red Rodney and the groups of Charlie Parker, Allen Eager, and a multitude of others. Yeager and company honor Wallington with an excellent arrangement and rendition of his tune. Here there are terrific solos by Yeager and Monaco. Yeager bends the notes on the vibes ala Gary Burton while Monaco adds great bass behind him. There are very short solos by Hey and Moore, which are as little too short but still the same very effective.

“The Look Of Love” finds some of the best work on the CD by guitarist, Clay Moore. This ballad was a very big favorite in the 1960s and remains among one the prettiest songs of our time. They follow this tune with an original, “New Groove Blues” for which the album is titled. Here Phil Hey opens the tune with a lick from Cozy Cole’s “Topsy Part II” which segues into a Latin riff in the minor that breaks into a very hip organ style blues swing with Yeager leading the way with solid comping by Monaco behind him. On this tune it is evident of Tony Monaco’s influence by McGriff, “Groove” Holmes, Earland and McDuff.

The arrangement of Kenny Dorham’s, “Blue Bossa” is done as an up-tempo Samba where drummer Phil Hey displays some impressive brushwork on this tune. This number is a big favorite of many guitarists. The cuts and drum fills work very well. Add to that some wonderful bass and guitar solo work along with Hey’s drum solo behind and this tunes is a charm.

“Home” by John Lewis is a funky soulful blues arrangement out of the late sixties of early 1970s. The group does a fine job on this tune. Where as the band comes right back with the next tune, a gorgeous ballad called “Lisa,” which is a very sweet sounding tune, I’m sure Steve Yeager wrote for someone special.

The album concludes with “Face To Face,” another funky blues tune that will have heads bobbing and feet tapping. This vibraphone/organ/guitar/drums combo is perfect for this music. Hats off to Mr. Yeager and his associates for this delightful CD album, New Groove Blues.

 

 

Radio Direct X

Reviewed by Max Babi

Yeager is a self-confessed devotee of the legendary giant of jazz vibes, Milt Jackson, and its shows in his style of presentation. At the same time he's not blind copy cat either, having developed his own brand of improvisation. In some numbers one hears the shades of Cal Tjader, and Victor Feldman too. On the whole the quartet plays quite crisp and fresh-sounding bluesy jazz that never slackens the pace at all.

 

He bursts in with the Harburg - Lane classic Old Devil Moon which was popularized by Frank Sinatra on a global scale. Yeager's vibes set the proceedings afire, soon to be exploded further by the dramatic entry of Tony Monaco on the Hammond organ. Clay Moore on guitar maintains a lively beat and so does the drummer Phil Hey. The quartet immediately carves out a niche for itself in one's mind, playing with a dollop of sincerity and honesty rarely encountered in music.

The second number Russell-Basie ditty 'Easy Does It' carries on in a similar vein though decidedly on a softer ground, with a laid-back attitude that transforms the mood slowly and steadily. The group seems to like to strike sudden chords with split-second timing, in the old Milt Jackson tradition, that one always noticed with MJQ and their great library of jazz tunes. The choice of Hammond Organ at the other end of the dialogue is intellectually stimulating : vibes and organ make very lively bedfellows here.

George Wellington's 'Godchild' sung by many Blues singers, is next and it gets a prim and proper treatment from the quartet without losing any of the strait-laced uppitiness that appears like a hallmark of Yeager by now. Highly pleasing number with the right mix of improvisation and melodic patterns, it could have hardly been arranged in any other manner. Burt Bacharach-Hal David masterpiece The Look Of Love is next with a even softer treatment, and it does sound like a perfect after-dinner close-to-midnight sort of music that soothes the mind and gladdens the heart. A little down the lane, it changes rhythm and pirouettes a bit like a self-conscious prima donna, before sobering up to the original form again.

The Title Track New Groove Blues composed by Steve Yeager comes next and it sound pretty much like something straight out of the swing era when Jackson rode sky high. Monaco shines again on the organ, as Yeager literally stretches himself thin improvising without any seeming boundaries. Kenny Dorham's Blue Bossa is set in the same idiom though with a bright solo by Hey on drums. John Lewis's masterpiece Home comes next with a flourish and the combo starts to sound very much like MJQ for Lewis has been one of its anchors all through half a century now. Lisa by Yeager is next very much in the same mood, with some inspired guitar playing by Clay Moore, and the group signs off with Roosevelt 'Baby Face Willette's 'Face To Face' which is again a slow number spread out like a princely dinner, coursing along steadily on a blues beat and offering the goodies on display unhurriedly all the way. On the whole a very satisfying performance. Kudos to Steve Yeager and his band of braves !

 

 

E Jazz News

Reviewed by John Kelman

Vibraphonist Steve Yeager teams up with a more traditional organ-guitar-trio to create New Groove Blues which, while not particularly adventurous, has plenty of good grooves and excellent playing to recommend it.

Yeager's playing is firmly rooted in the Milt Jackson camp. He has, in fact, released an album paying homage to Jackson and the Modern Jazz Quartet, but with the more down home spirit of this recording, Yeager takes us more into Jimmy Smith territory.

Yeager is an agile vibes player, with a strong sense of melody that pervades everything he does. Rather than pyrotechnical displays of virtuosity, Yeager's solos always tell a story, as in "Old Devil Moon". He burns through a rapid-fire reading of Kenny Dorham's "Blue Bossa" that is wonderfully supported by drummer Phil Hey's pulsing brush work.

Organist Tony Monaco has roots in the Jimmy Smith tradition, but plays with a fire that brings to mind more contemporary player Joey DeFrancesco. But check out the Bob Russell/Count Basie tune, "Easy Does It" and John Lewis' "Home"; the blues is far more pervasive than with DeFrancesco.

Guitarist Clay Moore provides primarily rhythmic support, and does so with taste and a wonderful sense of time, but when he lets loose, as he does on "Blue Bossa", he shows the capability for much more. His acoustic guitar work on Yeager's "Lisa" is understated while, at the same time, memorable for its lyrical sense.

The album closes with a soulful reading of the Baby Face tune, "Face to Face". Starting with a New Orleans march, it transforms into a tune in the best spirit of the 60s Blue Note recordings. Moore pays homage to Grant Green with a solo that is dripping with soul.

New Groove Blues is an accessible album of mainstream soul-jazz that is sure to appeal to fans of groove-oriented music with a strong dose of blues. With the less-than-conventional combination of vibes and organ trio, Yeager has created an album that, while steeped in tradition, has a unique and fresh sound.

 

 

The Musicians' Ombudsman

George W. Carroll

In the solid tradition of some ''tote that barge'' swing, and hard driving bebop, vibraphone player Steve Yeager has garnered a winner with his new disc. I must pay kudos to the musical symbiosis between Tony Monaco's burnin' Hammond B-3 horn lines, & the strong yet florid playing style of Yeager on vibes.

With some added help from their sidemen, Clay Moore-guitar, and Phil Hey-drums, the group celebrates jazz in the vernacular of the 'MJQ,,' 'Joey 'D,' 'Jimmy Smith,' et al. The group's musical formalization is strong as they express their musical ideas, melodies, harmonies, & rhythms positively. It's all here: Intonation, speed, intensity.......pitch, tempo, dynamics. A group like this is indispensable, with their propensity to exploit for us the listener, their take on creative expression of raw musical emotion.....

 

 

All About Jazz

Reviewed by C. Michael Bailey

Yeager, and by proxy, Tony Monaco, are the keepers of the flame. They provide a very traditional look at the blues and ballads a la Jimmy Smith, Jack McDuff. The combination of vibraphone (Yeager's instrument) and organ is a provocative one and the treatments are tasty. The songs come from all over the map- a Jimmy Smith "Old Devil Moon," a chicken shack look at "Godchild" and "Blue Bossa" all rounded up under the tent of the original "New Groove Blues. Yeager is more Milt Jackson than Stefon Harris and Monaco is more Jimmy McGriff than Groove Holmes. All of this distills into a pure spirit of soul jazz well played.

 

Jazz Review

Reviewed by: John Doll

"New Groove Blues" could easily have been titled 'Blue Coastal Breezes.' The melodies caressed by the quartet made up of Steve Yeager on vibes, Tony Monaco on organ, Clay Moore on guitar, and Phil Hey on drums are brisk, sunny bright with an undercurrent of the blues. The pieces are mostly playful and light. The package feels like a windy amble down a sun-bleached boardwalk with the sounds and sights of a fading summer's light.

Some of the pieces are well-worn like Burt Bacharach and Hal David's 'The Look of Love' which recalls a bygone era and as such the quartet plays it as elegantly and stylishly as a character in a 1960's Blake Edwards movie. Same goes with Kenny Dorham's 'Blue Bossa' which is puckish and amiable as a Jack Lemmon character. Count Basie's 'Easy Does It' is nice and easy as a cakewalk down to the waterfront.

'Old Devil Moon' begins with an impish grin whereupon Yeager launches a wild and marvelous solo to be replaced by a devilish Monaco who is darker and gutsier. Roosevelt Willette's 'Face to Face' is a funky and sassy romp featuring the nimbleness of Moore on guitar and Monaco on organ. Steve Yeager's title track composition is intriguing. It shoots off sparks especially when Monaco gets going providing a noticeable counterpoint to Yeager.

The unusual combination of vibes and organ is intriguing but ultimately limiting. Within these limitations, the players are masterful. "New Groove Blues" is pleasant and easy, but rarely provocative.

Jazz Week PDF

New Groove Blues Lands at #41 for the top 100 CD's of 2004

 

April Sessions / 1998

Tom Surowicz, Minneapolis Star Tribune August 1998

Yeager's work favorably recalls some of the top vibes players in Jazz:

Bobby Hutcherson's warmth, Milt Jackson's bluesy, groovy finesse; Gary Burton's

modern conception.  --