Fierce (Whirlwind, 2010) found alto saxophonist Patrick Cornelius in fine, feisty form, as he worked through his own winning compositions in a piano-less trio with occasional guests format, but he’s following a more reflective line of musical thought with a stellar quintet onMaybe Steps. This album is a mostly-original set of music with pensive pieces aplenty, and provides a better-rounded picture of the leader’s talents. Cornelius may have basically been in battle mode for Fierce, but he disarms on this one.
While Cornelius and company are willing to kick things into high gear with up-tempo swing (George Shearing’s “Conception”) and rhythmically vibrant, drum-driven music that showcases superb soloists within this band (“Shiver Song”), they do it sparingly. On the majority of this music, he looks back over his life’s experiences and muses long and hard on the memories at hand. A less-is-more lullaby (“Bella’s Dreaming”) with a Billy Strayhorn sensibility is an aural depiction of a daughter’s nap time rituals, while the title track—which also appeared on Fierce—is a trip through the major changes and turning points in Cornelius’ life, and a dour yet hopeful “Brother Gabriel” touches on depression and takes musical inspiration from Peter Gabriel’s “Here Comes The Flood.”
The mood of Maybe Steps is markedly different from that of its predecessor, with Cornelius’ personnel changes reflecting that difference. None of his friends from Fierce return, but he taps plenty of rising star peers. Pianist Gerald Clayton is fantastic throughout this set, guitarist Miles Okazaki steals the show on “Into The Stars,” bassist Peter Slavov anchors the band and delivers some skillful soloing of his own (“A Day Like Any Other”), and drummer Kendrick Scott, who appeared on the saxophonist’s self-produced debut, is never short on ideas, whether they be bold or benign. While these five musicians flesh out Cornelius’ ideas together throughout the album, things become a bit more intimate when pianist Assen Doykin makes his lone appearance on a fragile and ever-so-tender take on Kurt Weill’s “My Ship.”
Maybe Steps may not match Cornelius’ prior album when measured by intensity, but it surpasses it in all other categories. A more mature outing with greater emotional depth, it continues to reveal more treasures and pleasures with repeated listening.