If you've had a chance to check out the latest live CD/DVD set from legendary drummer Steve Smith and his jazz-fusion act Vital Information, then you are probably aware that he's had this band going strong now for 30 years. In fact, Smith & Vital Information kind of fell into place just as Steve's tenure in rock band Journey was winding down, and they've been at it ever since. Originally hailing from Massachusetts, I'm sure the drummer was looking forward to making a stop at Boston's Sculler's Jazz Club located in the Double Tree Hotel right alongside the lovely Charles River. It was just one of many stops on this North American tour for the band as they celebrate their 30th Anniversary, and Sea of Tranquility Publisher Pete Pardo was on hand and brings this full concert report.
Though I've been a big jazz-fusion fan for many years, for one reason or another it's been a good many years since I've had the chance to see any live jazz in the New York area, though certainly not for a lack of concerts popping up on the calendar. Lucky for me I was on a business trip in Boston recently and Steve Smith & Vital Information also happened to be in town as well. The setting was Sculler's Jazz Club, located right inside the Double Tree Hotel on the Charles River, a very intimate setting that probably holds maybe 100 people. It afforded most in the audience the chance to sit right around the stage and witness the mastery of this great band up close and personal. Steve announced early on that the band would be playing material mostly from their new live album Live! One Great Night, which in itself is a collection of songs written and performed by the current line-up of the band (Smith on drums, Vinny Valentino on guitar, bassist Baron Browne, and keyboard legend Tom Coster) as well as a few older favorites. I've you've gotten familiar with this new release, then this show was a way to hear many of those tunes in person.
All four of the musicians are masters of their instruments. Smith & Coster of course have been around forever and contributed their stellar talents to many rock and jazz albums over the years. Together they have a synergy that you don't always see between a drummer and keyboard player, and Smith's gymnastic drum work locks in with Browne's deep, funky grooves, allowing for Coster to lay down a wealth of colors using Hammond organ, piano, and synth tones. Guitarist Valentino is also quite the player, laying down plenty of tasty licks and gorgeous jazz solos that brought to mind George Benson & Wes Montgomery on many occasions. Watching he and Smith trade off some wild scat singing on the intricate "Interwoven Rhythms-Synchronous" and "Interwoven Rhythms-Dialogue" was a ton of fun, and fusion barnburners like "Cat Walk", "Time Tunnel", and "Seven and a Half" allowed for plenty of 'wow' moments from the audience as the band really cooked and mixed jaw dropping musicianship with finely crafted melodies. Coster even pulled out the accordion for a few numbers, and both Smith and Browne had little solo spots that drew ecstatic applause from the audience.
It was a fairly short set at just under 90 minutes, but no one left disappointed and Smith even hung around after the show to sign CDs, take pictures, and chat with the audience. I remember, back in 1981, seeing Journey in concert as a 15 year old teenager, and really being impressed with Steve Smith's drum technique, which is interesting considering that I've always been a guitar player and drummers just never seemed to interest me much. Way back then, he really made an impression on me and he still does to this day. Not only is he still one of the best drummers on the planet, but this band overall is a formidable bunch, and well worth checking out on this 30th Anniversary tour if you get the chance to see them.