Steve Smith, Time Flies Review
Drummer Steve Smith, a former member of the iconic rock band Journey and an inductee in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, has led his jazz group, Vital Information, since 1983. This year marks their 40th anniversary, celebrated with the release of their new album Time Flies. The album itself is a 2 CD set, with a bonus CD titled A Prayer For The Generations, and is set to release on May 5, 2023, under Wounded Bird Records.
The new Vital Information features Manuel Valera on keyboards and Janek Gwizdala on bass. Smith has been recognized as one of the Top 25 Drummers of All Time and the #1 All-Around Drummer for five consecutive years by Modern Drummer Magazine readers polls.
The presence of special guests further enriches the album. George Garzone, a titan of the tenor sax, lends his skills to “Time Flies,” “Inception,” and “What Is This Thing Called Love?” His performance is, as always, intense and mesmerizing, adding an extra layer of depth to these pieces.
Finally, vibraphonist Mike Mainieri notably contributes to the track “No Qualm.” Known for his pioneering work with the jazz fusion group Steps Ahead, Mainieri’s vibes offer a shimmering, almost ethereal dimension to the music that beautifully complements the rest of the ensemble.
Time Flies starts with the powerful and intricate composition “Emergence” by keyboard player Manuel Valera, a Grammy-nominated artist and Guggenheim Fellow. “Emergence” is a funky up-tempo jazz fusion vibe with a sense of urgency created by Smith’s dynamic drumming. The melody is catchy, the harmony is colorful, and the mood is energetic. The melodic line, introduced by Valera’s agile keyboard work, is intricate yet accessible. Gwizdala adds a layer of fundamental warmth and emotional support with his deep sense of groove. The interplay between these musicians as they unfold this fantastic performance, showcases their extraordinary skill and creative synergy. By the time the track concludes, listeners will have taken an exciting, winding journey through a captivating musical landscape.
The album covers an array of pieces such as Bud Powell’s “Tempus Fugue-It,” Max Roach’s “Un Poco Loco,” Mike Mainieri’s “Self Portrait,” and McCoy Tyner’s “Inception,” each delivered with the high technical facility, unique interpretations, and thrilling heights.
The title track, “Time Flies,” presents an improvised groove featuring the saxophone maestro George Garzone. With a relaxed tempo that allows everyone to explore many cross-rhythms and intricate rhythmic motifs, this selection still retains the groove, regardless of the intensity of the music.
Valera’s masterful reworking of “Darn That Dream” highlights Smith’s brush prowess. The group also ventures into jazz-rock territory with a stirring rendition of Mike Mainieri’s “Self Portrait” and a rhythmically playful cover of Monk’s “Ugly Beauty,” with a nod to Steps Ahead bandleader Mike Mainieri’s contribution on vibraphone.
A stand-out moment is Cole Porter’s “What Is This Thing Called Love?” where the song begins with Garzone and Smith in a thrilling duet and cleverly transitions into a 7/4 vamp before launching into a highly original melody. The tour de force drum solo from Smith at the song’s end captures the listener’s attention and marks the end of the track in a signature Vital Information style. It solidifies that Smith’s dynamic drumming is so full of energy it could power a small city.
Time Flies concludes with a moody and mysterious composition by bassist Janek Gwizdala, showcasing an audacious usage of a 34″ Zildjian gong as a ride cymbal by Smith and probing solos by all three band members.
In addition to the primary album, a bonus CD titled A Prayer For The Generations is included. A Prayer For The Generations explores the telepathic sonic landscape crafted by the group during Smith’s formative years at the Berklee College of Music. The project came about as a “happy accident,” born out of the shared chemistry and intuition between Smith and reconnected old friend George Garzone. This spontaneous and improvised session led to the creation of an eight-part piece that carries the vibe of a prayer and a timeless conversation between generations.
From mid-tempo groovers, rubato ballads, and 3/4 blues to up-tempo burners, this CD is a testament to the innovation and adventurous spirit of Steve Smith and Vital Information. The bonus CD opens with John Coltrane’s “One Down, One Up,” followed by the eight-part suite of “A Prayer For The Generations,” a series of improvised pieces performed once in the order presented.
The eight songs deliver a variety of themes, from mid-tempo groovers to up-tempo burners, with each selection developing into a substantial musical piece that weaves a narrative across multiple parts. As each offering shows a different perspective on the shared thematic musical landscape, the suite-style structure is particularly suited for showcasing the robust musical chemistry of the ensemble and their shared dedication to deep, intricate jazz improvisation.
In summary, both Time Flies and A Prayer For The Generations encapsulate the essence of Steve Smith and Vital Information. They are masterclasses in musical evolution, collaboration, and spontaneous creation. Each listen unveils new layers of complexity, making them albums you will want to return to time and time again. So, buckle up, sit tight, and let the audacious spirit of Steve Smith and Vital Information carry you on a captivating journey through the annals of jazz fusion. A journey that, much like time itself, flies. That’s the short of it!
Connect with Steve Smith: Website |
Click here for A Prayer for the Generations!
May 5, 2023
Drum Legacy Records