Catching Up With…

Steve Smith

Is there a harder-working man in the business? Following a world tour with tabla master Zakir Hussain, he’s got two new albums out and a third on its way.

by Ken Micallef

Featuring bassist Baron Browne, guitarist Vinny Valentino, alto saxophonist Andy Fusco, and keyboardist Mark Soskin, Vital Information NYC Edition’s Viewpoint, out on May 26, finds fusion star Steve Smith maneuvering classic straight-ahead material and letting it rip on three solo tracks. “I get to play over the top a lot in this band,” Smith says, “which is fun and reminds me of when I would go see Tony Williams, Elvin Jones, or Buddy Rich’s groups, where the drummer could stretch out.” Tracks include Rich’s “Willowcrest,” as well as his classic “Time Check.” “That one retains the big band feel that we had with Buddy’s Buddies,” Smith explains, referring to the group he formed in the early 2000s with BR alumni. Other highlights include the Vinny Valentino composition “The Brush Off” (you can probably guess what Steve’s working out on that one), Joe Morello’s famous solo vehicle “Take Five,” and Sonny Rollins’ “Oleo,” which Smith adapts with Indian rhythms. Those unable to catch the group on its current tour should look out for Live in NYC, recorded at the Iridium in 2011 and scheduled for an October release.

On the album Groove: Blue, which hits this summer, Smith is joined by Valentino and Hammond B3 player Tony Monaco in a funky organ-trio format that includes original compositions as well as the standards “Cherokee” and “Green Dolphin Street.” “The arrangements happened in the moment,” Smith says. “It’s very relaxed and swinging. A certain energy happens when the clock is ticking and you only have a few hours to get each tune.”

So what keeps Smith going…and going? “I am constantly listening to music from all eras,” Steve says, “including what’s happening today with drummers like Eric Harland, Bill Stewart, and Mark Guiliana. I also stay in touch with the older masters. I feel like I have accumulated a large vocabulary that comes from every place I can dig up great ideas, including Indian rhythms. With these albums, I let it flow and put it all together.”