I covered Steve Smith's reissue of Vital Information's Vitalive here, a great little republication of a long lost live gig from the favored MOR / fusion band much in need of resurfacing. This Best of anthology shows the far more fusiony side of Smith and his 26-year standing group, starting out with the great Scott Henderson (whose Tribal Tech discs are a must) in a chops fest on the very first cut, smartly abetted by the nimble Victor Wooten, Smith blazing away beside the pair. If that lead-off track doesn't set your ears on fire, then this isn't the CD for you. I suggest, as an alternative, Barry Manilow doing Karen Carpenter singing Perry Como.
For the rest of us, yow!, what a gatherum. Nothing but prime players—Larry Coryell, Tom Coster, Jerry Goodman, Stu Hamm, Frank Gambale, Dave Liebman…and that's only half the roster! I mean, nothing but top-shelf whirlwinds, all playing their brains out in great charts. Smith is one of those guys who gets the best from the best, and this issuance scours his catalogue for paradigmatic work, taking from eleven different releases. I'm hoping part of the benefit herein will lie beyond satisfying the hell out of we dinosaurs and extend to an exercise in discovery for young listeners and players looking for something nourishing and challenging.
There's nary a word in the entirety of Best of, just sterling musicianship. If fusion's new to you or you've been thinking of giving it a try, then I can hardly imagine a better intro. Smith and crew show huge respect for tradition while burning it down on both sides, and this is exactly what jazz is all about: that constant push against the staid and conventional. Every one of these gents was at the top of his game during all that time—as far as I know, they still are (and we sure could use a lot more Dave Liebman)—and this stuff doesn't age one second, standing just as handily behind the old fiery Abercrombie / Cohen 1975 Friends unit as beside the latest whizbang brainburner from Jimmy Agren, Mats/Morgan, and that ilk.
Edited by: David N. Pyles
Copyright 2009, Peterborough Folk Music Society.
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