The world-class and award-winning drummer Steve Smith has a passion for all that’s good and offers an amazing Viewpoint on his latest release for BFM Jazz. His new group - Steve Smith and Vital Information NYC Edition - is the culmination of three of Steve Smith’s touring and recording bands known as Buddy’s Buddies, Jazz Legacy and Vital Information. Viewpoint features a combination of musical styles these groups have performed as well as three members from each of the bands.
Vital Information NYC Edition is Steve Smith on drum set, Baron Browne on bass, Andy Fusco on alto saxophone, Mark Soskin on piano and Fender Rhodes, Vinnie Valentino on guitar and special guest Walt Weiskopf on tenor sax. Together this high energy, creative jazz band brings you a strong album in a short amount of time.
Six of the 12 songs the group performs are rearrangements of such jazz standards as Don Menza’s “Time Check,” Bob Florence’s “Willowcrest,” Thelonious Monk’s “Bemsha Swing” Paul Desmond’s “Take Five” Sonny Rollins’ “Oleo” and Herbie Hancock/Stevie Wonder gem “Chan’s Song (Never Said). The remaining six original songs were composed by members of the group and Tom Coster. These songs are excellent vehicles for each band member’s vast array of musical skills and ability to provide the right accompaniment.
The band opens with “Bemsha Swing” and immediately brings you deep into their new funky fusion arrangement. The music brims with spontaneity, mood shifts and a variety of sonic pleasures. Changes in tempo, rhythm, harmonic and melodic directions are done without senseless jolts to your listening pleasure. “Time Check” and “Willowcrest” are songs originally written as big band arrangements for drummer Buddy Rich but now have been arranged by tenor saxophonist Walt Weiskopf. Smith is dynamic on the opening of “Time Check,” and displays his virtuosity as one of the world’s leading drummers as does Weiskopf on tenor sax. He’s blowing!
Three drum solo pieces by Steve Smith – “Viewpoint” parts one, two and three – serve to remind us of Steve Smith’s impeccable skills as a drummer, composer, and arranger. As he shifts the rhythmic melody on one of his drums your perspective changes; when he adds a different drum, your perspective or viewpoint changes again. Even with the changing rhythmic and melodic concepts, these three pieces artfully connect you to Steve Smith’s exemplary rhythms on canvas.
Smith pays a great tribute to Joe Morello, the drummer who initially recorded “Take Five” with the Dave Brubeck Quartet. His solo is sensational. This song never gets old and here guitarist Vinny Valentino plays Brubeck’s piano part with beautiful chord changes while Andy Fusco brings you new flavors on alto sax for Paul Desmond’s part. Sonny Rollins’ “Oleo” also gets a great update with a fantastic piano-drums duet and Indian rhythms.
Viewpoint is an awesome documentation of great straight-ahead jazz. It has it all of the elements of great jazz as well as exhilarating arrangements that keep you listening from start to finish.