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Steam consists of three members of the celebrated Chicago avant-garde jazz group The Vandermark 5 -- bassist Kent Kessler, drummer Tim Mulvenna, and reedsman Ken Vandermark -- plus acclaimed pianist Jim Baker. The quartet, which took its name from an Archie Shepp composition, is a little less outré than some of its members' other projects, though they'll still challenge you regularly during the course of each composition. Steam provides a context for its members to experiment and to play some of the so-called "traditional" jazz that informs their ongoing experimentation.

Steam's 1996 release Real Time, contains nine pieces composed by Vandermark and Baker (and dedicated to everyone from hard bop saxophonist Dexter Gordon to artsy British filmmaker Peter Greenaway). These works are full of nuances, subtle accents, and musical references. There seem to be so many layers of sound it's easy to forget there are only four musicians playing. "Non-Confirmation," a Baker piece from that album, is a luminous, shimmering blend of avant and trad jazz. Steam's sound is a wonderful shifting amalgam of influences and ideas that should appeal to experimentalists and traditionalists alike.