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  • Jonathan Widran


Yes it’s so true, as Steve Smith reminds us via the title of his latest Vital Information project, that Time Flies, but that doesn’t mean that 40 years after the jazz/fusion collective’s debut project, the legendary Rock and Roll Hall of Fame drummer – who’s also played three impactful stints with Journey dating back to their 1978-85 heyday – has any interest in resting on or celebrating a million previous laurels at the expense of vibrantly re-imagining everything moving forward.

Keeping the concept fresh and fiery than ever, he integrates into the rhythmically relentless aesthetic two powerhouse contemporary jazz artists (Grammy nominated Cuban born pianist/keyboardist Manuel Valera and electric bassist Janek Gwizdala) who were little kids when Smith released the first Vital Information project as a five-piece ensemble in 1983. Literally, Smith’s vibing with the current trio (not, he makes clear, “a traditional piano trio”)makes the time travel concept blast off, literally and figuratively, from the booming, wild and rapturously percussive adventure “Emergence” through the sly mood swings of the rhythmically eclectic closer “Erdnase,” where Smith uses his 34” Zildjian gong as a ride cymbal and plays it soulful and cool as Janek Gwizdala (the tune’s composer) and Valera take trademark dazzling solos which contrast darkness with light.

Along the way, the trio explores and takes to fresh creative heights classics by Bud Powell (a rambunctious “Tempus Fugue,” a briskly rumbling “Un Poco Loco”), McCoy Tyner (a fiery, joy-filled, scattershot arrangement of “Inception”) and Thelonious Monk (a dreamy, meditational, Fender Rhodes fueled “Ugly Beauty”) while also showcasing Valera’s compositional and arranging skills. Smith complements the trio on occasion by inviting vibraphone great Mike Mainieri, his old pal from Steps Ahead, to jam on “No Qualm” and saxophonist George Garzone to add his emotive energy to three tracks.

Once the trio and Garzone had recorded the furious and freewheeling “Inception” and a few other tracks for the main session, the ensemble took Coltrane’s “One Down, One Up” to its craziest limits, which prompted the drummer and sax player to jam, then create the fascinating, way out there nine part improvisation “A Prayer For The Generations” that comprises the incredible bonus disc. Because these bonus tracks are not available on streaming, for true Vital Information fans, purchasing the physical package is essential!

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