Is it wrong to start off with rating the release first because if it is then I'll have to hold the 5 stars till the end of this killer performance. Most of you may know Smith as the drummer for the former super group Journey so lets have ourselves a little Journey moment to borrow from the All-State commercial.
Despite the commerical fame associated with one of the most iconic bands of the 1980's, Smith has always been a jazz player at heart with Vital Information being perhaps one of the best kept secrets in jazz - all night, every night...
"One Great Night" is an aptly titled package that captures an exhilarating performance from 2007. Former Santana keyboardist Tom Coster joins in this formidable 4tet along with bassist Baron Browne and then new guitarist Vinny Valentino. While Smith drives the musical train it is clearly his ability to play with both power and finesse that push this ensemble to a level few quartets could even remotely come close to. Instead of a self indulgent bash fest there is a musical connection, sonic dialog that pushes the music to center stage where all participant are on equal footing and with dazzling results. Smith's lyrical sound and ability to carry of the subtle nuances that some of these compositions require is that musical happy place between Max Roach and Keith Moon. If you are expecting the stereotypical fusion record you may be in for a disappointment. One of the many highlights of a disc that explodes with vitality would be the lyrically sublime work of "Interwoven Rhythms - Synchronous" and "Interwoven Rhythms - Dialog." Indian poly-rhythms pulled out of the musical hat are not exactly the standard bill of fare from the best of fusion bands but with Vital Information everything is on point. There is a perfect compositional mix of swing, groove and an effortless creativity. Smith is also keenly aware of the harmonic freedom necessary to make the ordinary the extraordinary and encourages new ideas to keep the creative juices flowing as with this virtually flawless night captured for posterity. Vital Information has made a thirty year run seem as effortless as pouring that morning cup of coffee. Opening with the in the moment groove of "Cat Walk" find Smith welcoming you to the land of rhythm and groove while guitarist Vinny Valentino and keyboardist Tom Coster fill in the missing pieces to indeed make a groove you can use. Infectious, vibrant and original the 4tet stretches out to show off their chops avoiding all the self indulgent pitfalls lesser talent seem to find with relative ease. An odd metered, harmonically shifting gem showcasing a band capable of changing dynamics on the fly. "Time Tunnel" opens with the finesse of Smith and a more free form exploration of melody and perhaps the sonic road less traveled when it comes to the ultimate destination. While Valentino, Browne and Coster are the perfect trio for Smith to launch into a more classical old school fusion romp, Smith adds a tremendous three dimensional sonic depth of field indeed making old school new cool as Smith is not merely comfortable playing in the pocket - he is the pocket. The finesse and subtly showcase one of the finest melodic drummers with the ability to play with a lyrical sense of purpose and most importantly the understanding of the whole being equal to the some of its parts.
There is a companion DVD which was shot in warm and somewhat grainy black and white which again adds tremendous depth to an ensemble now in its 30th year of existence. Steve Smith and Vital Information can at times be polished and precise while at other times raw and visceral. Swing, groove, hard charging of dialed back finds Vital Information as the real deal.
Did I mention this is easily a 5 star release?
Tracks: Cat Walk; Time Tunnel; Interwoven Rhythms - Synchronous;; Seven And A Half; Khanda West; The Trouble With; Interwoven Rhythms - Dialogue; The Closer; Jimmy Jive
Bonus DVD cut: Positano.
Personnel: Vinny Valentino: guitar, konnakol, voice; Baron Brown: bass; Steve Smith: drums, konnakol; Tom Coster: keyboards.
Special Thanks To Michael Bloom of Michael Bloom Media Relations!