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Side Steps, Japan




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Like Gerard, Side Steps are a long running Japanese band, though this time coming from the jazz fusion genre. They received some attention in the Western world, mainly due to their association with Musea Records. As you will see in my notes below, not all is great. I even debated adding them here to UTR, but there's just enough good at the end of their career to at least consider. From a technical perspective, these guys are fantastic. But I tend to like a bit more grit and grime in my music. In giving full disclosure, I only kept the last two albums I featured here. The last activity on their website goes back to 2012, and their final release was 2007, so it does appear the band may be kaput.

Side Steps - Out and Out. 1997 Musea (France CD)
Side Steps - Alive. 1999 Musea (France CD)
Side Steps - Points of View. 2001 Musea (France CD)
Side Steps - Steps on Edge. 2003 Musea (France CD) 1993 recording. see write-up for more info regarding this release
Side Steps - Verge of Reality. 2005 Poseidon (CD); 2005 Musea (France CD)
Side Steps - Alive II. 2007 Poseidon (CD); 2007 Musea (France CD)

Highly likely this discography is incomplete. RYM lists at least 5 other releases, but details are scant. The above more or less comes from Discogs. And given what I've learned about Steps on Edge, I'm not certain all those albums were actually released in a physical medium. Side Steps' own website does list all of these other albums, but it does appear they were digital only. The exception being Steps on Edge which was released posthumously by Musea.  Also, of their early albums released by Musea, it does look like Marquee (Belle Antique) may have issued them in Japan domestically. It's not entirely clear if they are a co-production, or released separately. Same with the Poseidon releases, but I'll leave those for now.

----Steps on Edge

Steps on Edge is an early work from Side Steps, recorded in late 1993 and reputedly released in 1994 (see  below for more info). Recently I reviewed their 2001 album Points of View, and commented that the album produced every late 70s fusion cliche, but faster and more technical. I thought it was quite good on the whole actually. Steps on Edge also mimics the late 70s - but as produced in the middle 80s. The tones here are really painful to endure. There's only so much slap bass and 80s synthesizers a person can take at once (I think?). Not to mention the chromatic scale guitar runs. No, I'm not trashing the album you understand. If these things don't matter to you - or even better, you enjoy that particular sound - then Steps on Edge will easily go into your win column. The compositions are not bad, though it's definitely more show-offy than the Points of View album. I think they were to mature greatly from here, but as an early fusion effort, it's not bad truthfully. Just not one for me to keep.

While I've read in a few places that Musea's CD is a "reissue", I'm finding no evidence that this album was actually released in 1994 in Japan (or anywhere). Now, as you all know if you've followed my CDRWL blog, Japan can be the most mysterious of lands, and no doubt countless albums have fallen completely out of sight over the years. But these are more modern times, and no longer the disconnected 1970s. My guess is this was recorded in 1993 just as the album notes of the CD suggest (and it certainly sounds older than the other Side Steps' I've heard). And the Musea (France) / Poseidon (Japan) release is its actual first pressing. The CD itself mentions no other pressing either. Proof to the contrary is certainly welcome. I just couldn't find any.

----Out and Out

Slick as a butter dish instrumental jazz fusion, all digital - all the time. The playing is at a high, very technical level, and these guys will impress their music school instructors. Some by-the-numbers mellow pieces offset the perfectly placed "scorchers". A few attempts at actual composition and melody writing make this one worthwhile to hear, but otherwise unless you're a budding musician who subscribes to all the music magazines, this one will probably leave you a bit bored.

----Points of View

Japanese ensemble Side Steps continue on with Points of View, an album that brings forth every single late 1970s fusion cliche you can think of... except faster and more technical. Ya know, I've heard of worse concepts than that. Like the 70's era, melody actually matters, and there's more than a nod to fellow countrymen Kenso here. Not an analog sound within earshot mind you, so file that away. Good one, despite that.

----Verge of Reality

Verge of Reality is Side Steps' last studio album. Starting with 'Roppongi Night', it appeared the band were headed more for tropical waters, like their forefathers before them, with a light and breezy fusion sound typical of the early 80s era for example. But it was a head fake, and the abrasive hard guitar was back on the appropriately named 'Edge Trigger'. 'Parallel Reality' amps it up further and includes a couple of nice breaks adding to the excitement. 'Evergreen' is another mellow track, though ultimately more classy in that 5 star hotel lounge sort of way. Throughout, the synthesizer tones remain a problem, with their Nintendo-like sound, but overall the music is on par with some of Kenso's more fusion oriented works. Not going to change your world, but if looking for a solid jazz fusion album, one could do far worse than Verge of Reality.

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