Steve Elmer was a drummer prior to entering Manhattan School of Music, though he eventually switched to piano after studying privately for six years with Lennie Tristano while also working on a B.S. in Music Education at Hofstra University. After earning a Master's degree at Queen's College, Elmer taught there for several years and served as director of jazz studies with Frank Foster, though he quit playing music professionally between 1976 and 1991, holding a variety of other jobs. But the jazz bug was still present, so he returned to serve as musical director and pianist for The Jazz Mentality, which also featured saxophonist Chris Potter, recording two CDs with the group before it disbanded. Fire Down Below is Elmer's second release leading a trio with bassist Hidemi Tanaka and drummer Shingo Okudaira, leading them through an extensive tour of Japan in early 2007. The pianist penned ten originals for these 2008 sessions. "Constant Lee" is an intense reworking of the chord changes to "What Is This Thing Called Love," dedicated to one of Tristano's prize pupils, Lee Konitz. "GA's Jambalaya" is a loping, playful tune with an infectious hook. "Fire Down Below" races to the finish in a furious workout, while the low-key, bluesy "Tanaka's Hideout" was conceived as feature for his bassist, who shows his humorous side during his engaging solo. This is a rewarding date by a veteran player deserving of wider recognition.
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AllMusic Review by Ken Dryden