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Drummer Steve Smith, of Journey and Steps Ahead fame, leads a quintet featuring Buddy Rich alumni through a set of jazz charts. Coming from 80s rock and fusion, Smith tends toward flash and heavy-handedness (like Rich himself, some would say). Add Anthony Jackson on electric bass and you have a rhythm section that sounds like what it is: fusion cats trying to swing. Tenor man Steve Marcus, altoist Andy Fusco, and pianist Lee Musiker, respectable soloists all, sound a little hampered under these circumstances.
The high-octane numbers include Horace Silver’s "Nutville," Sonny Rollins’s "Airegin," Coltrane’s "Moment’s Notice," and Sammy Nestico’s "Ya Gotta Try." The energy is all there, but it just doesn’t swing as it would with a straight-ahead rhythm section. Missing is the light touch that distinguishes even the most burning swing. "Moment’s Notice" comes closest to succeeding—the soloists handle the difficult tune well and the head arrangement contains a few surprises.
"You Stepped Out of a Dream" and "Cool" (from West Side Story) are decent trio features for Fusco’s alto and Musiker’s piano, respectively. "Norwegian Wood," by The Beatles, is a Coltrane rip-off. "New Blues," a slower minor-key swing tune, puts the rhythm section in a better light. And Michel LeGrand’s "How Do You Keep the Music Playing?" features fine tenor work by Marcus, who manages to transcend to the cocktail-hour pleasantness of the arrangement.
Years ago now--in Rhodesia--listening to Voice of America with Willis Conover I heard Bunk Johnson play When The Saints Go Marching In, and Billie Holiday sing Don't Explain. I knew then there was no other life for me than jazz.