It’s always refreshing to hear good fusion and contemporary jazz groups in live performance, away from the sometimes chafing studio glister of their recordings. This collection is an especially valuable treasure, documenting a spellbinding tour by one of fusion’s hottest supergroups. The members of Vital Information consistently astound listeners with their seasoned intuitiveness and mind-boggling virtuosity. Keyboardist Tom Coster honed his chops with the likes of Cobham and Santana; drummer Steve Smith has a formidable rock-jazz resume (including Journey and Steps Ahead), and guitar giant Frank Gambale has graced too many excellent fusion sessions to count over the past twenty years. Of particular interest here is bassist Baron Browne, a former sideman of Billy Cobham and Jean-Luc Ponty who enviably replaces veteran VI bassman Jeff Andrews. Browne certainly knows his way around jazz electric bass styles, from Monk Montgomery to Stanley Clarke and Jaco Pastorius, with plenty of his own personal style blended in.
Most of the material here is taken from the band’s studio albumWhere We Come From, but there are many surprises included along the way. Among the unexpected highlights are a mysterious reading of John Coltrane’s “Mr. P.C.”, Led Zeppelin’s “Moby Dick” (which kicks off with a finger-busting solo by Browne), Ornette Coleman’s “Happy House”, and a Jack McDuff classic called “Soulful Drums” (this is a studio bonus track, as is Disc 1, Track 9). The very first track exemplifies the vacuum-sealed interaction of the group as the tempo drops drastically over the course of a few bars and picks up again quickly. Disc 2, Track 1 is a drum feature that flaunts Smith’s rhythm pedigree in grand fashion. Disc 2, Track 3 is funky in the Jimmy Smith vein, Coster holding down a groove so greasy it practically slides offstage. Coster picks up his accordion for Disc 2, Track 4, a slow lament he co-wrote with Carlos Santana and which is a staple of tenorist Gato Barbieri’s repertoire. On Disc 1, Track 3 Coster even manages to alternate rapidly between the organ and accordion, with humorous but effective results. All the members’ past work experience and influences flow freely together to create an ensemble like no other. This is an unbelievably magical set that could and should win the band, and the genre of fusion itself, many new fans.