Vital Information NYC Edition is the stylistic meeting place of drummer Steve Smith’s fusion band Vital Information and his straight-ahead groups Jazz Legacy and Buddy’s Buddies, and it brings together members of those ensembles. On Heart of the City, the prolific Journey drummer teams up with guitarist Vinny Valentino, pianist Mark Soskin and bassist Baron Browne for a lively set of covers and originals.
They make the covers their own. Their take on John Coltrane’s “Mr. P.C.” is modern while respecting its composer’s intentions; Valentino, Soskin, guest saxophonist Andy Fusco and Smith alternate fiery solo spots until they join forces for a bombastic climax. Other standards they twist to their will. Their arrangement of “Rhythm-A-Ning” is slithery and funky, with effective pauses where Monk didn’t put them. Cole Porter’s “I Love You” begins as a speedy guitar-and-drums duet and only picks up steam, coalescing into heady hard bop and then somehow transforming into funk-rock. They turn “Cherokee”—the quintessential bebop burner—into slow funk that grooves and grooves.
The originals change up the pace and enrich the set. Valentino’s “Bugalulu,” a tight boogaloo, gives him, Fusco and Soskin (on Fender Rhodes) space to solo, and his “Heart of the City” is a funky-caper number that feels like an update of the Pink Panther theme. Smith enlivens three tunes with his percussive scat singing. Though he overdubbed it, it melds perfectly with his combustible drumming, especially on “Charukeshi Express.”