Steve Smith’s Vital Legacy is perfect for this fuel-efficient age because it’s a hybrid: It mixes aspects and elements of the fusion unit Vital Information and the straight-ahead outfit Jazz Legacy, with a side order of music from the Buddy Rich tribute band Smith fronted a few years ago. However, the entire set was pushed through the souped-up electric matrix Smith built with Vital Information almost three decades ago. As a result, Smith’s quintet hit classics like “Bemsha Swing” and “A Night in Tunisia” like a juiced-up outfielder hits a hanging curve ball.
Audience members whose knowledge of Smith went as far as “Don’t Stop Believing” had to be blown away by the sheer thunder he continually conjured up.
Smith’s in-the-clear intro to Tony Williams’ “Sister Cheryl” was big enough for a towering concert hall, let alone the intimacy of the Van Dyck. He followed that by scat-singing the South Indian cadence that was the inspiration for “Interwoven Rhythms,” the first of two tunes from Vital Information’s latest disc, “Vitalization.” Baron Browne‘s pulsing bass added muscle to Smith’s booming bass drum, and Vinny Valentino turned the scat into a “duet” as the group dug into the piece’s smoking, James Brown vibe.
Valentino plays an Old School hollow-body guitar, but his solos were more John Scofield than Wes Montgomery, which really thrust “Bemsha” into the 21st century. Buddy Rich alum Andy Fusco is steeped in the Old School, but his passionate alto sax translated perfectly to Smith’s electric approach, and both worlds came together for a wonderful take on “Embraceable You.” Mark Soskin had me with the first notes from his Fender Rhodes, but his high-water mark came on a grooving gospel-laced exploration that led to Vital Legacy’s closer, a funked-up take on Bobby Timmons’ “Moanin.'”
The only thing more powerful than Vital Legacy’s music was the wattage of Steve Smith‘s smile. Here was a man doing what he loves, bringing two projects together to form one set of terrific music, and turning on two sold-out shows to everything he can do. Just another great moment in the rejuvenation of the Van Dyck – and it’s not even March yet!
Review by J Hunter
Photographs by Andrzej Pilarczyk
Read more from J Hunter about the show at AlbanyJazz.com