On Small Steps, jazz pianist Larry McDonough presents unique arrangements of jazz classics (All Blues, Crystal Silence, Nature Boy), pop classics (Layla, Linus and Lucy, Good Day Sunshine), and originals songs by producer Mark Browning Milner (Coreatown) and McDonough (Small Steps). McDonough said that he had several goals for the CD. First, he wanted to record live in the studio, without any editing, dubbing or re-recording.
Second, he wanted to display his unique style of playing solos in the bass section of the keyboard. He incorporates left- and right-handed bass solos in addition to treble solos, in each piece. McDonough says that "This frees me to construct separate and distinct solos within the same song, sometimes in sequence, sometimes trading solos back and forth between bass and treble, as in All Blues' and Small Steps'."
Third, McDonough dramatically changed the melodies and harmonies on many of the songs, basing harmonies on modal harmonies built on 4ths, which were popular in the 60s and 70s, rather than traditional jazz changes. In "Linus and Lucy", "Layla", and "Good Day Sunshine", this has led to harmonizations far from the original composers' intentions. Producer Milner describes this as "bebop-cum-impressionistic style, sort of Bill Evans meets Debussy."
Finally, McDonough quotes extensively from other composers in his solos, but often places them against harmonies quite different from the originals. This can most clearly be heard in the "Coreatown" solos, where several Chick Corea melodies appear, as well as on "Linus and Lucy" (television themes), "Layla" (George Harrison and Stevie Wonder songs), and "Small Steps" (melodies from Corea, Herbie Hancock and others). The other quotes reflect his work in BOZO allegro. McDonough decided to quote Beatles' melodies within the solos on each of the pieces. He placed a list of Beatles' tunes in front of him while recording and quoted when he felt the urge. Some are obvious, others are buried in bass solos or placed against unusual harmonies or rhythms.
McDonough's original piece, "Small Steps", was written as a response to Coltrane's "Giant Steps", based on unison and minor second progressions in the melody and harmonies. The solo section includes changes through all 12 keys, moving upward and downward chromatically, bass and treble solos, and a trading section between bass and treble.
The CD also includes the cover art work of Michael Diehl and photography of Ed Freeman. They used imaginative shots of a toy piano and a grand piano to create illusions about which is the real piano. They also used a line drawing of McDonough by Bob Brown, rather than a photo, but include a photo of McDonough performing as a child.