Steve Smith has been widely admired as a drummer since his heyday with the rock group Journey. Like Bill Bruford, though, he's always had a strong affinity for jazz and, once dislocated from the arena boys, wasted no time indulging his wont, to the delight of fusion fans around the world. He took in some highly noted musicians along the way: Tom Coster (Santana), Mike Stern (Miles Davis), Eef Albers (Golden Earring), Andy Narell, Brad Dutz, etc. Releasing a number of albums on a number of labels, some became time-lost, and Smith's presently repairing that deficit. Here, he's restored a very hard to find live document just in time to rejoin a small but very welcome resurgent interest in fusion.
Coster again teams with him, along with fireball guitarist Frank Gambale, who turns up the heat in solos when he cuts himself loose, for a set that wows the crowd. As Smith himself notes, people have been on him and on him and on him to bring this one back out, and he's finally bowing to the request. Larry Schneider plies a sax highly reminiscent of a number of similar ensembles of the era (the gig was '89, but that particular fusion sound stretched from the late 70s to the early 90s): East Coast Offering, Casiopeia, Passport, Kittyhawk, etc.
Like many pre-CD era recordings, the original Vitalive wasn't the best recording (at least that much was rectified with damnable digital tech), so the sound has been cleaned up considerably and a bonus track added from the vaults for a long (well over an hour) set. No one hogs up the spotlight—in fact, Gambale is amazingly restrained for the most part—but there are solos aplenty and tons of improv. Coster still has the sparkle and verve he lost in later saccharine solo gigs, and bassist Larry Grenadier slips a few surprises up his sleeve as well. Then, of course, there's Smith's superb drumming, and, like Gambale, he's content not to grab too much foreground.
This is jazz, so don't go getting too many visions of Keef Hartley or Colosseum, lest you be barking up the wrong tree. On the other hand, this work is always a great complement for the rockier side of the house, and Hartley-Greenslade fans are forever welcome to join the club. Just toss on Vitalive and see why Klaus Doldinger, Richard Elliott, and Steve Smith were doing what they were doing.
Edited by: David N. Pyles
Copyright 2009, Peterborough Folk Music Society.
This review may be reprinted with prior permission and attribution.
Website design by David N. Pyles