Drummer Steve Smith has led his jazz group Vital Information since 1983, making his new release TIME FLIES the 40th Anniversary recording. Smith, the former drummer for the iconic rock band Journey, has won multiple Modern Drummer Magazine readers polls including Top 25 Drummers of All Time, #1 All-Around Drummer for five consecutive years, and has been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. TIME FLIES debuts the new Vital Information with Manuel Valera on keyboards and Janek Gwizdala on bass.
“Emergence” kicks off TIME FLIES with a powerful and intricate composition by keyboard player Manuel Valera, a Grammy nominated artist and Guggenheim Fellow. Steve Smith’s drum performance invokes the spirit of Tony Williams during his “Believe It” period. Bud Powell’s “Tempus Fugue-It” requires a high degree of technical facility to play the up-tempo piece in a relaxed, swinging way and the new incarnation of Vital Information has the chops to play this classic with ease. “Time Flies” is an improvised groove piece featuring saxophone guru George Garzone. Manuel Valera’s sophisticated reworking of “Darn That Dream” is a showcase for the brush mastery of the Vital Information bandleader. Another inventive arrangement by Valera, “Un Poco Loco,” uses the rhythm of the cowbell beat Max Roach played on the original recording, applied to the melody, to breathe new life into this Bud Powell masterpiece. Steve Smith performed Mike Mainieri’s “Self Portrait” many times as a member of Steps Ahead; after a breathtakingly beautiful piano intro by Valera, the group has their own interpretation of this “stadium size” jazz/rock ballad.
George Garzone sits in on tenor sax for McCoy Tyner’s “Inception” and inspires the group to dizzying heights. “Choreography in Six,” a new jazz/rock anthem co-written by Valera and Smith explores rhythmic, harmonic and melodic variations in 6/4. “No Qualm,” a Valera original, is the perfect setting to feature Steps Ahead bandleader Mike Mainieri sitting in on vibraphone. On Monk’s “Ugly Beauty,” the trio takes an odd-time (5/4) and electric approach with Valera featured on Fender Rhodes. Cole Porter’s “What Is This Thing Called Love?” starts with a sax & drum duet and morphs into a 7/4 vamp, setting up a highly original take on the melody. The song ends in classic Vital Information style with a tour de force drum solo from Smith. The album concludes with a mysterious and moody composition by bassist Janek Gwizdala, with Smith using his 34″ Zildjian gong as a ride cymbal and probing solos by all three band members.
Companion Bonus CD “A PRAYER FOR THE GENERATIONS”
During Steve Smith’s formative years at the Berklee College of Music in the early 70s, he often played with saxophonist George Garzone’s group The Fringe. Steve reached out to George and invited him to play a few tunes on the TIME FLIES recording. When that session was finished the group decided to continue recording together and explore stellar regions. George called Coltrane’s “One Down, One Up.” They played one high-energy take and decided to enter a space of “collective group composition.” George suggested: “Let’s play as if we are offering a prayer.” The result is A PRAYER FOR THE GENERATIONS Parts 1–8. Each piece was improvised and performed one time in the order presented on Disc 2. The players connected in a telepathic zone creating an acoustic/electric sonic landscape infused with question/answer, discovery and surprise, with pieces ranging from mid-tempo groovers, rubato ballads, 3/4 blues to up-tempo burners; A truly innovative chapter in the ever-evolving musical output of Steve Smith and Vital Information.
TIME FLIES Tempus fugit is a Latin phrase, usually translated into English as “Time Flies.” I was curious about the definition after playing the Bud Powell composition “Tempus Fugue-It” and was at once inspired. TIME FLIES launches Vital Information’s latest incarnation and marks 40 years since the recording and release of the first Vital Information album in 1983. With this album Vital Information emerges with a completely new approach as a piano trio; but not a traditional piano trio. I envisioned a trio with a big sound and a wide conceptual range, from high-energy jazz-rock, “stadium” ballads, grooving odd-times to burning straight-ahead swing. For that I need two virtuoso musicians who could rise to the challenge of this demanding setting. Enter keyboard dynamo Manuel Valera and electric bass master Janek Gwizdala. Manuel is a creative and prolific composer/arranger and a powerhouse improviser. Janek has an orchestral approach to music, a deep pocket and the soloing ability to carry one-third of the solo space. Both Janek and Manuel are composers, recording artists and bandleaders. TIME FLIES presented a golden opportunity for collaborations with two of my favorite musicians, vibraphonist Mike Mainieri, the bandleader of Steps Ahead, a group I’ve had the pleasure of working with since 1986, and saxophonist George Garzone, who I played with during my formative years at the Berklee College of Music in the early 70s. Enjoy TIME FLIES, a 60-minute, 12-track odyssey with one of the most potent versions of Vital Information ever assembled! —Steve Smith