Steve Smith and Vital Information : Live! One Great Night

Drummer Steve Smith, a one-time member of rock supergroup Journey and Jean-Luc Ponty’s fusion group, has kept his hard-hitting Vital Information together for 30 years. A number of stellar players have passed through the ranks during that time, contributing to the band’s organic blend of high-energy jazz, rock and funk. Keyboardist Tom Coster has been a member since 1986, and electric bassist Baron Browne came aboard in 1998. Guitarist Vinny Valentino, who favors a warm tone and flaunts the harmonically abstruse single-note burn of a young Pat Martino, joined in 2006. He follows in the footsteps of such potent past Vital Information guitarists as Mike Stern, Dean Brown and Frank Gambale. This live outing captures the current quartet in a 2007 performance at the Mobius in Ashland, Oregon.

They come out slamming on the funky “Cat Walk,” a vehicle for Smith’s pocket playing and Coster’s organ wailing. “Time Tunnel” is an unabashed swinger that drifts into the territory of Smith’s other project, the Buddy Rich tribute band Buddy’s Buddies, while the menacing “Interwoven Rhythms-Synchronous” reveals his passion for South Indian Carnatic music in his skilled konnakol singing and simultaneous subdivisions on the kit.

The rhythmically tricky “Seven and a Half” and the drum solo “Khanda West” are showcases for the drummer’s uncanny ability to juggle polyrhythms. Guitarist Valentino’s lone composition, the James Brown-inspired funk number “The Trouble With,” has him simultaneously soloing and scatting à la George Benson. “The Closer” finds Smith once again swinging on the ride cymbal with jazzy authority, while guitarist Valentino and synth specialist Coster indulge in rapid-fire exchanges and blazing unisons. They conclude with the greasy organ-group shuffle “Jimmy Jive.” An accompanying DVD includes the atmospheric bonus track “Positano,” wherein Smith engages in konnakol call-and-response with Valentino’s Benson-esque scatting-and-soloing.

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