Before Mike Portnoy came along and started hogging up all the awards in sight for his glorious skins work for years without number, Steve Smith managed to nab the #1 All Around Drummer 5 years in a row in Modern Drummer magazine, no mean feat. The same staff of experts then dubbed him among the top 25 drummers of all time, and that, yow!, is even more an honor, 'cause now we're talking about sitting in Valhalla with Buddy Rich and the other gods. Then consider that he walked away from that big big BIG money gig with Journey in order to stay true to musical goals, following in the footsteps of Bill Bruford and others. Thus, ladies and gents, we're talking 'artist' with a capital 'A'.
And Smith just doesn't let up, still as dynamic—nay, more so!—as the day he exploded on the scene, Live! One Great Night a great point in illustration. Steve's backed by old Santana stalwart Tom Coster, a guy who plied the keyboards for Carlos during that band's glory zenith, pushing out mindblowing sounds on Caravanserai, one of the all-time great rock/prog LPs. Seeing as how they're now in a CD / DVD combo set, you're in for some pulse-pounding fusion here, visually and sonically. Then there's Vinny Valentino and his Benson/Martino-esque guitar cheek to jowl with Baron Browne's highly voluble basswork, a guy who's all over the recording, not content to hold down the rhythm section alongside Smith but instead expanding it to push the borders of the group's sound.
Valentino, in any other band, would be the up front guy, but Smith is just naturally overpowering, stunning the audience with his unbelievably supple drumming. We're talking Billy Cobham levels. So, instead, everyone gets a good deal of room while Smith takes his customary overwhelmingly leveling position; it just wouldn't be Steve Smith music if he wasn't an equal voice. Think Jack DeJohnette, Ronald Shannon Jackson, Tony Williams. But catch Coster's solo in Seven and a Half, though. Holy Christ! It's like Keith Emerson swallowed Dick Hyman in a caffeinated version of The Minotaur! In fact, there are plenty of surprises and chopsfest interludes everywhere, and the added bonus of actually watching 'em all go to town right in front of your eyes? Man, it don't get any better 'n that!
Mark S. Tucker