Steve Smith and Vital Information, Time Flies Review
Rhythmic Reflections: Steve Smith and Vital Information’s Time Flies – A 40-Year Journey in Jazz Fusion
by Ferell Aubre
Steve Smith, one of the preeminent drummers in the fusion world, marks the 40th anniversary of his acclaimed jazz group, Vital Information, with the release of a 2-CD set, Time Flies. Launched under Wounded Bird Records on May 5, 2023, the album also includes a bonus CD, A Prayer for the Generations, a profound documentation of Smith’s formative years.
The new lineup, with Manuel Valera on keyboards and Janek Gwizdala on bass, ensures a fresh and dynamic interplay. Special guests George Garzone on tenor sax and Mike Mainieri on vibraphone further enrich the ensemble’s texture.
The lead track “Emergence,” penned by Grammy-nominated Manuel Valera, presents an up-tempo jazz fusion imbued with urgency. Smith’s intricate drumming coupled with Valera’s keyboard agility and Gwizdala’s foundational groove creates a sonic synergy that’s thrilling and approachable.
Valera’s masterful adaptation of “Darn That Dream” brings Smith’s brush prowess into focus, while the playfulness of Monk’s “Ugly Beauty” pays homage to vibraphonist Mike Mainieri. The title track, “Time Flies,” exhibits an improvised groove featuring George Garzone, maintaining an underlying groove regardless of musical intensity.
The standout “What Is This Thing Called Love?” commences with a duet between Garzone and Smith, transitioning into a 7/4 vamp, followed by a highly original melody. Smith’s drum solo concludes this track with a bang, a tour de force performance, emblematic of Vital Information’s signature style.
The album concludes with Janek Gwizdala’s mysterious composition, displaying an audacious use of a 34″ Zildjian gong as a ride cymbal by Smith. The probing solos from all three band members leave a lingering intrigue in the listener’s mind.
The bonus CD, A Prayer for the Generations, originated from a serendipitous jam session with Smith and George Garzone. This spontaneous creation includes John Coltrane’s “One Down, One Up” and the eight-part suite of “A Prayer For The Generations,” a series of one-take improvised pieces that beautifully narrate a thematic landscape.
The music on Time Flies covers a diverse terrain, 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. Each piece morphs into a substantial musical narrative, showcasing the ensemble’s musical chemistry and dedication to intricate jazz improvisation.
Steve Smith’s dynamic drumming—so full of energy it could power a small city—is undoubtedly the beating heart of this album. Supported by the adept musicianship of his band members and special guests, Time Flies is a masterclass in musical collaboration and evolution.
Without unnecessary embellishment, Time Flies and A Prayer for the Generations manage to encapsulate the very essence of Vital Information. They are albums filled with technical facility, unique interpretations, and thrilling sonic exploration. Each listen unveils new complexity layers, making them a must-return experience for any jazz enthusiast.
In summary, Time Flies carries the listener on a captivating journey through the annals of jazz fusion. It’s a journey filled with intricate rhythms, audacious improvisation, and a timeless conversation between generations. A journey that, like time itself, flies.