Revisiting STEVE SMITH’s Vital Information

Vital Information

In 1983 while playing with the enormously successful arena rock band Journey drummer Steve Smith received a green light from the corridors of power that resided at Columbia Records to proceed with a project that had been burning inside of him since childhood : To form a searing jazz-rock fusion ensemble that would rock, swing and cry with compelling ardor and that would push stylistic parameters. He summoned old buddies Dave Wilczewski on saxes, Dean Brown on guitar, Tim Landers on bass as well as the then Miles Davis guitar whiz Mike Stern and dubbed the project Vital Information. The result, this extraordinary self-titled 1983 debut satisfied his dream ten-fold. It had the high octane energy of Journey but slipped out of Journey`s rock constrictions by substituting the fundamentals and essentials of jazz & blues which embraced the spirit and complexities of 70s fusion monsters such as The Mahavishnu Orchestra, Return To Forever and Jean-Luc Ponty, the latter with whom Smith had previously recorded and toured with.

As the title would suggest there is a sense of urgency on every one of the seven tracks heard here. Full of devil-may-care electric guitar infusions, eager saxes, singing bass melodies with a sax-driven samba-like piece ( Stoughton To Stockholm ) thrown in for posterity, not to mention Smith`s iconic drumming.

Apart from the funky groovin` Looks Bad, Feels Good which leads off the album, the pulsating Questionable Arrivals or the scorching guitar/drum duet on the title track, first prize on this fusion battle royale must go to the mezmerizing All That Is which defines the whole work . From Dave Wilczewski`s igniting, ponderous tenor sax head through it`s almost straight ahead rock middle section save for some insane key changes it cries and burns itself into a frenzy that also recalls ghosts from other eras of the jazz realm finally resolving itself into a restatement of the head to restore it to a spooky calm with only smoldering embers that were extant afore this unmitigated sonic onslaught. It even recieved some limited play on FM rock radio no doubt partially as result with Smith`s ongoing concerns with Journey.


The whole record reeks of solid musical conviction drenched in passion giving the impression that these cats were really fired up for this baby; a creature that had been in a prolonged embryonic state which had just emerged from it`s gestation period fully mature. Despite the youthfulness of all the players at the time, all had spent some time at The Berkley School of Music and had played with a myriad of jazz and rock artists. For those who had only been familiar with Smith`s stellar work with Journey ( although elements of that are definitely to be found here ) some fans of that band were taken aback at first by this leviathon. Smith draws more on straight-up jazz drumming with a peculiar bop/big band fusion style which he pursues with ferocious abandon and most devious intent! An element which also contributes to the overall might of the work is one that is absent but would figure more prominently as Vital Information matured over the years : Keyboards. The absence of which give the music the fiery sound that Smith yearned for, allowing for more catchy melodies to develop particularly with Landers` bass with some very lyrical lines to be heard on tracks like VG and 13th Month the latter being the only piece to feature a keyboard passage featuring Steve Smith himself on the rather pretty piano intro on this fusion ballad that literally burns with emotion and fire.

Simply beyond reproach, Vital Information`s first album is one of those albums that once you`ve eaten it up for the first time you will go for seconds saying to yourself : this, I gotta hear that again man! For years it was a jazz-rock fusion jewel that time forgot until 2005 when it was brought back from the jazz netherworld by Wounded Bird records on CD along with Vital Information`s subsequent `84 release Orion which is but another incredible story! For those of you fusion freaks out there who can`t get enough of 70s style fusion and missed this gem strap yourself into the ejection seat for this ride which ups the ante and blows the stylistic envelope off all 4 quadrants of the musical graph. Impeccable jazz-rock fusion.


1.Looks Bad, Feels Good ( 4:30 )
2. Questionable Arrivals ( 6:37 )
3. V.G. ( 4:49 )
4. Vital Information ( 3:42 )
5. All That Is ( 7:42 )
6. Stoughton To Stockholm ( 8:15 )
7. 13th Month ( 6:51 )


* Steve Smith – drums ( piano on 13th Month )
* Mike Stern – guitar
* Dean Brown – guitar
* Tim Landers – bass
* Dave Wilczewski – tenor sax

You must be logged in to post a comment Login

%d bloggers like this: