The ensemble consists of Steen on various acoustic and electric basses; Quinn Johnson on keyboards; Jimmy Mahlis on guitar; Chris Wabich on drums; and Brad Dutz on a variety of traditional as well as ethnic percussion instruments. Together they form a core which maintains a unity of sound that threads its way throughout the program. The group is supplemented by a number of guests who play traditional instruments such as duduk, bouzouki, ney, cavaquino, and kawala.
Not content to merely marry specific cultural styles with contemporary jazz, the group mixes and matches cultural ideas, often within the same piece. Take the CD opening track, "Whelan’s Jig", where a traditional Irish jig, complete with Uillean pipes, Irish wooden flutes and the bodhrán are combined with a Cameroonian polyrhythmic bikutsi groove and, as the liner notes say: "voila!...World Jazz"
"Drum ‘n Barong" mixes the Balinese gamelan orchestra Barong Dance with a drum ’n bass groove and, again, you have something new yet somehow familiar.
"Second Wind", featuring Russell Ferrante (of the Yellowjackets) on piano, Robben Ford on guitar and Ernie Watts on flute, marries the partido alto feel with modern and traditional choro.
Each track represents a trip, and the whole album represents an entire journey. Solos are integrated into the compositions, reminding one of the compositions of Pat Metheny and Lyle Mays.The album is completely written, arranged and produced by Steen, who plays with taste and a stylistic breadth that is not easy to find. With a strong conception that allows an album of such diverse influences to come together as a unified whole, View From Afar will hopefully garner even more attention than the World Jazz Ensemble’s previous award-winning album, First Move. Highly recommended.