Steve Smith and Vital Information: Time Flies

Best known for its full-on fusion, the drummer's trio extends its rapprochement with swing in a set with Mike Mainieri and George Garzone


Time Flies marks the 40th anniversary of the founding of drummer Steve Smith’s outfit Vital Information, whose eponymous debut album was released in 1983 on CBS Records. Berklee College of Music graduate Smith has had a varied career, recording and playing with countless jazz luminaries including Jean Luc Ponty, Steps Ahead, Ahmad Jamal, Larry Coryell, Mike Stern and Randy Brecker. But he was also the co-founder of the rock group Journey and is featured on more than 10 of the band’s albums.

What is remarkable about this new album is its potential to win over jazz-rock refuseniks. Half of the album contains standards, which are afforded new lustre courtesy of keyboard wizard Manuel Valera. Crucially, four of these non-originals were penned by pianists including Bud Powell, McCoy Tyner and Thelonious Monk.

Dismissing Smith as just another powerhouse drummer would be an error: in addition to being a dexterous and powerful percussionist, he’s also a tasteful one who has the chops and finesse to match anyone. One example of his deftness comes when he reverts to brushes on a reworking of Jimmy Van Heusen’s Darn That Dream, into which the group breathes new life. For this outing he’s fortunate to have the support of two outstanding musicians in the shape of Valera and bassist Janek Gwizdala who contribute some extraordinary playing.

Another bonus is the addition of tenor saxophonist George Garzone on three numbers including the title track, Inception and Cole Porter’s What Is This Thing Called Love? Vibraphonist Mike Mainieri, Smith’s erstwhile colleague in Steps Ahead, guests on Valera’s composition No Qualm.

The affair is augmented by a bonus CD, born of the universal enthusiasm that followed the recording of the titular album; the quartet, including Garzone, decided to play and record some more. It opens with John Coltrane’s One Down, One Up, and the ensuing content comprises a suite of eight jam sessions entitled A Prayer For The Generations which spans a little over three-quarters of an hour. Of the eight tracks, Part 4 is a six-minute interpretation of Joe Zawinul’s Directions.

CD1: Emergence; Tempus Fugue-It; Time Flies; Darn That Dream; Un Poco Loco; Self Portrait; Inception; Choreography In Six; No Qualm; Ugly Beauty; What Is This Thing Called Love?; Erdnase (60.04)
CD2: One Down, One Up; A Prayer For The Generations (Parts 1-8) (53.48)

Smith (d); Manuel Valera (p, kyb); Janek Gwizdala (elb); Mike Mainieri (vib); George Garzone (ts). New Jersey, 29 November-4 December, 2022.
Wounded Bird Records WOU9998