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Steve Smith and Vital Information 'Live! One Great Night' - Review from The Jazz Writer

When a band records a live performance, the listener can expect two things: improvisation wherein the musicians stretch out in ways you don’t normally get in a studio session, and reaction from the audience. The latter is a bit lacking on Live! One Great Night (BFM Jazz, 2012), by Steve Smith and Vital Information.

The combination CD and DVD release celebrate the group’s 30th anniversary. Smith, a drummer, has a vast depth of experience, having worked with Journey, Steps Ahead, Buddy Rich Big Band and many others. He’s also won several readers’ polls in Modern Drummer magazine. The rest of the group consists of Tom Coster on keyboards, Baron Browne on bass and Vinny Valentino on guitar.

The very cool “Cat Walk” starts the set. Whether the title is a reference to fashion models strutting down the runway or an actual feline getting about, the groove is appropriate for either image. Valentino carries the sassy lead for much of the song, with Browne injecting an element of funk with his bass line.

The complicated rhythm of “Seven and a Half” is like a hybrid of something you might expect from the Yellowjackets and Weather Report, with a dose of Steely Dan thrown in. It’s easily one of the more intense tracks, particularly during Coster’s high-speed solo. Through it all, Smith works it on the high-hat, mixing in some tom rolls and basically employing the entire kit.

While the music is top notch, One Great Night doesn’t feel like a live recording. To be fair, it wasn’t from a recent concert wherein they intended to make a record. Instead, it was a 2007 concert at The Mobius in Ashland, Oregon. A webcast was done of the performance, and Smith tracked down the recording of the concert. So the audio dynamics aren’t what one might expect. The applause at the ends of songs is somewhat muffled, and fades out rather quickly. So while the music is terrific, the package doesn’t transplant the listener into the venue so one can feel like you’re part of the experience.

The DVD is a recording of the 2007 webcast with an additional song. Although in black and white, the photography is excellent, with sharp images of the musicians and some really cool close-ups of Smith’s kit, including a setup of three mounted toms. The audio of the crowd’s reaction comes through a little better, but with no visuals of the audience, it looks more like a music video than a concert. Again, that’s mainly because when it was recorded, making a live CD or DVD was not the intent. Otherwise, those missing elements would have been part of the plan.

The Jazz Writer


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