At the age of 72, Mike Mainieri isn’t the household name among the jazz public that he should be. He played his first professional gig on vibes when he was 14 as part of trio with Paul Whiteman; he was a mainstay with the Buddy Rich big band from the mid-50s to the early 60s. By the late 60s Mainieri had shifted in the direction of jazz rock and fusion; as a prolific studio musician he’s credited with work on over 100 gold and platinum albums for a who’s who of pop and rock stars including Carly Simon, Linda Ronstadt, James Taylor, Aerosmith, Dire Straits, and others.
Compared to Mainieri, Marnix Busstra is a freshman even as he approaches mid-life; but the very fact that Mainieri chose to record with him testifies to his talent regardless of age. A largely self-taught guitarist from Holland, Busstra’s influences include guitar icons such as John Scofield, Pat Metheny and John Abercrombie but he’s also embraced the sounds--and instruments--from world music. Indeed, on Twelve Pieces he puts down the guitar for a few tunes and mixes it up with both electric sitar and the Irish bouzouki (a distant cousin of the mandolin). He also composed all the tunes on this record save two.
Twelve Pieces is an eclectic mix of jazz that defies manifest classification. The tunes range from atmospheric ("Old Fashioned") to a very laid back march hinting of the second-line style ("Old Men's Home"); from light swing ("Don't Break Step") to free ("Where Am I?"). There are a few world-tinged pieces to add more flavor: "Lost in Little Spain" is a modal tune built on the sound of the electric sitar, there is the Middle Eastern-tinged "Square Brown" where Busstra establishes the rhythmic base on the bouzouki, and finally a straight-forward adaption of an Indian children's folk song, "Kannada".
Twelve Pieces is mostly gentle and lyrical jazz, something to enjoy with wine and a cozy fire. But it’s not sleepy; because of its stylistic diversity it stays interesting without the need to be bold or aggressive. Mainieri and Busstra meld nicely, Eric van der Westen provides excellent support on the double bass, and drummer Pieter Bast provides a lesson on rhythmic adaptation across jazz styles; his work on brushes is noteworthy throughout.