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Reviewers: Don Mather, Tony Augarde, Dick Stafford, John Eyles, Robert Gibson, Ian Lace, Colin Clarke, Jack Ashby



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STEVE SMITH & VITAL INFORMATION

Vitalization

Hudson Music HD CD 101

 

 

 


1. Interwoven Rhythms - Synchronous
2. Get Serious
3. The Trouble With
4. The Bottom Line
5. Seven and a Half
6. Interwoven Rhythms - Dialogue
7. J Ben Jazz
8. Groove Time
9. You Know What I Mean
10. The Closer
11. Jimmy Jive
12. Positano
Steve Smith - Drums, konnakol
Tom Coster - Keyboards, accordion
Baron Browne - Bass
Vinny Valentino - Guitar
Bill Evans - Tenor sax, soprano sax (tracks 3, 4, 8, 9)
Pete Lockett - Tabla, kanjira, percussion, konnakol (tracks 1, 2, 5, 6, 9, 12)
Gilad - Congas, percussion (tracks 2, 7-9)
Juan Carlos Melián - Congas, percussion (tracks 2, 8, 9).

When jazz-rock (now generally known as jazz-fusion, or just fusion) arose in the late sixties, some people regarded it as a dangerous perversion of jazz. But many jazz musicians have kept faith with the genre, including drummer Steve Smith, who has held Vital Information together for some years playing in this style. However much some purists sneered or condemned, jazz-rock brought some fresh influences into jazz which are still evident today. Many jazz groups now naturally include eight-in-a-bar tunes in their repertoire, and the bass and drum patterns of rock music have enriched the jazz vocabulary - even tightening up the precision of playing.

Precision is one of the hallmarks of this album. These guys can turn on a sixpence (as we used to say before decimalisation). They negotiate difficult sequences and rhythms with impeccable timing. But they can also swing like mad, as they prove on The Bottom Line and The Closer, which both have the sort of unstoppable forward motion of some of George Benson's early recordings before his singing took precedence over his guitar. Jimmy Jive is a straightforward blues swinger in 4/4: dedicated to Jimmy Smith, with his kind of easy groove.

Jazz-fusion is well-named, because it not only mingled jazz with rock rhythms but also opened the door for influences from other musical styles, such as World Music. This is evident on the two tracks entitled Interwoven Rhythms, where Steve Smith and percussionist Pete Lockett duet in the southern Indian style of vocal music called konnakol - reeling off percussive syllables that sound like the tabla, which Pete also plays on the first track. Steve's drums seem to be echoing Indian beats in Seven and a Half, which has an intriguingly dislocated pulse because of its 15/8 time signature.

Steve Smith doesn't dominate the band, staying in the background on several tracks, content to lay down a sturdy beat alongside bassist Baron Browne. But when Steve solos - wow! you really know about it. His technique is awesome and very exciting. Audiences often applaud drum solos because there is something visceral about unfettered percussion. Yet Steve integrates his soloing into the band, as the other musicians generally keep playing around him, providing a frame for his solos.

After all the sound and fury, the CD closes with a meditative slow tune, Positano, composed by Vinny Valentino and featuring Tom Coster on accordion. All four members of the group display stunning virtuosity throughout the album. Long-time member Tom Poster is a tower of strength on various keyboards, while new man Vinny Valentino (replacing former guitarist Frank Gambale) is both inventive and funky. The guests - especially saxist Bill Evans - add to the palette of sounds. Steve Smith and his colleagues show that jazz-fusion is not only alive and well but also developing in new directions.

Tony Augarde

 



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