Led by all-universe drummer Steve Smith, this quartet has been a major force within jazz-fusion circles amid shifting personnel since the 80s. With the band’s latest effort, firebrand guitarist Vinny Valentino rises to the occasion with the departure of Frank Gamble along with guest spots by saxophonist Bill Evans and others.
Smith’s recent studying and performances of South Indian vocal music (konnakol) comes to fruition here with support from indigenous percussionist Pete Lockett. And as many of us would anticipate, the artists’ modus operandi is firmly entrenched within upbeat grooves, presented here in various shapes and colors. On this endeavor, the unit lays down Indo/funk-fusion parts along with other works that highlight its signature style of embedding tricky time signatures into rock solid backbeats. Moreover, they pursue New Orleans-based shuffle rhythms, supersonic fusion vamps and peppery organ-combo motifs.
Valentino’s snazzy and funkified chord progressions on the soul-drenched piece titled "The Trouble With (Valentino)" is augmented by Evans’ hard-edged tenor sax choruses. In other areas, Smith’s polyrhythmic flurries spawn a series of breaks and exchanges with his band-mates. At times, Valentino steps on the distortion pedal and soars skyward in hyper-mode fashion. And Tom Coster’s twisting synth lines on the gumbo-groove workout titled "You Know What I Mean" features Valentino’s badass guitar solo, where the musicians proceed to slam matters into overdrive. Nonetheless, Smith and associates leap back onto the scene with a colossal bang, as diversity and strong material abet the album’s overall success. (Release date: 6-5-2007)