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Steve Smith, Tony Monaco & Vinny Valentino: Groove: Blue

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First, briefly, how Groove: Blue came to be: Drummer Steve Smith and guitarist Vinny Valentino of Smith’s fusion band Vital Information wandered into a lounge after playing the Java Jazz Festival in Jakarta in 2011. There, they caught the superb Ohio organist Tony Monaco. Smith and Valentino asked if they could sit in, and they all jammed onstage. Later that year, Smith and Valentino were in Cleveland, called Monaco and drove to his home studio in Columbus, where Smith borrowed a small drum kit from a friend of Monaco’s and Valentino plugged into the room’s only amp. A day and a half later, they had recorded the material for Groove: Blue.

It’s an album straight out of Blue Note’s heyday, a perfect vintage organ trio record, the kind Jimmy Smith and Grant Green used to make. There’s an urgency to this music that is sometimes missing from modern studio recordings-maybe it had something to do with the unfamiliar traps, the compressed time frame or the fact that Smith and Valentino didn’t know Monaco’s style all that well. It’s an outing full of great moments, from the barn-burning takes of Monaco’s “I Remember Jimmy” and “Slingshot Blues” to the soul-jazz romp through “Cherokee” to a Latin-tinged “On Green Dolphin Street” to the mellow finale, “That’s All.” It’s a fun record. The trio bounces along through happy takes of “It’s Only a Paper Moon” and Valentino’s blues “Bugalulu,” whose foundation sounds suspiciously like “Night Train,” a point that Monaco underscores when he slips in a quote from the old standard. Smith (whom rock fans know from Journey) restlessly but effortlessly shifts the rhythms all across this record, Valentino picks with as much style and class as ever, and Monaco dips deep into the Hammond B3 bag of tricks, serving up stabs, swells and repeated phrases without ever sounding trite.

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