If you like the melding of rock and jazz known as fusion, you owe it to yourself to check out Come On In, drummer Steve Smith and Vital Information's latest release. This supergroup also features top players Tom Coster on keys, Frank Gambale, on guitars and Baron Browne on bass. All are masters of their respective instruments, and this album showcases the flexibility and talents of the group as a whole.

This version of Vital Information has been together since 2001, and the CD's liner notes reveal their desire to play "American" fusion (an amalgamation of funk, swing, jazz, and rock). Their many influences are apparent: at times, Coster's keyboards sound like Herbie Hancock or Jimmy Smith, while Gambale's tone and attack reminds me of Wes Montgomery. Come On In should appeal to fans of Weather Report, Garaj Mahal, or Charlie Hunter.

A favorite track is "Cat Walk," a jazzy/funk improved romp with Coster's B3 organ and Gambale's clean guitar tones fueling the infectious groove. "Around the World" has a New Orleans party vibe, reminiscent of the Meters, and Smith's second line drumming again sets up for the interplay between Coster's synth and Gambale's blazing guitar work, while Browne's bass lays down the backbeat. "Baton Rouge," with its Middle Eastern vibe and Indian rhythms reminds me a little of a Steve Kimock tune. The two trio improved sets, "Beneath the Surface" and "Fine Line," feature Smith playing a clay udu drum, Tom Coster on accordion, and Frank Gambale on steel-stringed acoustic guitar. Throughout this record, Steve Smith's impeccable and versatile drumming drives the compositions and Baron Browne's serious bass grooves also serve to push the music forward, over which Coster and Gambale can really stretch out their solos.

This release is solid from start to finish, not a note is wasted or squandered, and the result is a groove-driven delight with some serious swing. If you want to hear some great contemporary fusion players at the top of their game, then Come On In.

Susan J. Weiand
JamBase | San Francisco
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[Published on: 11/1/04]

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