Now in their 25th year since their initial 1983 release, Steve Smith and Vital Information has become a formidable jazz/fusion juggernaut whose longevity surpasses all of the major fusion groups.
The all-star lineup of Tom Coster (keyboards), Baron Browne (bass), Vinny Valentino (guitar), and Steve Smith (drums) serves up a veritable banquet of sounds, from slamming funk and syncopated second line grooves to seriously swinging, up-tempo B-3 burners, South Indian Carnatic-inspired jams, and sizzling fuzoid romps.
The group’s founder and drummer, Steve Smith, has a resume that stretches from Ahmad Jamal, Zakir Hussain, The Buddy Rich Big Band and Steps Ahead to Andrea Bocelli and Journey. It is no surprise that he won Modern Drummer magazine’s “Number 1 All Around Drummer” award five years in a row and was voted one of the “Top 25 Drummers of All Time” in a recent Modern Drummer Readers’ Poll.
In 2002, Smith was voted into the Modern Drummer Hall of Fame. In the last eight years, he has led or co-led fifteen different jazz or jazz/rock projects for the Tone Center label. His Hudson Music educational DVD “Steve Smith - Drumset Technique and History of the U.S. Beat” is a best-seller in the music educational market.
Smith and Vital Information are constantly evolving, staying at the top of the game with imagination and creativity. Smith is quick to point out that a key to the band’s remarkable versatility is its bassist.
“Baron brings a real serious groove element to the band,” says Smith of his rhythm section partner. “He’s my favorite bass player to play with because he can play all the styles and he always makes the music feel so good.”
Smith adds “Baron plays great swing, great funk and groove, and he can read anything. He can play in any odd time signature - plus he can play over changes really well. It’s hard to find bass players who can do all of that.”
Browne has worked in the past with Gary Burton, Billy Cobham, Jean-Luc Ponty, Steps Ahead and Tom Jones but has never sounded better than he does with Vital Information.
Unique multi-keyboardist Tom Coster, whose versatility ranges from Hammond B3 to accordion, was playing with Gabor Szabo and Rahsaan Roland Kirk long before he came to prominence in Santana, a stay that lasted nine years. He has recorded many solo albums and has been a member of Vital Information since 1986.
Vinny Valentino is the newest member of the band. He began touring in a progressive rock band while still in high school.
At age 16, influenced by the music of George Benson, Vinny began pursuing jazz as a career. He recalls, “The turning point for me was hearing George Benson in concert; I had never heard anybody play like that. It was an eye-opening experience.” Vinny and his mentor have since developed a close friendship.
Benson refers to Vinny as a “young genius with brilliant tone and fresh ideas.”
Vinny earned his Bachelor of Music in Jazz Studies at Howard University. Vinny has shared the stage or recording studio with such jazz greats as Gary Bartz, Randy Brecker, Bill Evans, John Pattitucci, Richard Bona, Bob Moses, George Benson, Steve Gadd, Dennis Chambers, and Jimmy McGriff.
It all started in 2004 when Vinny filled in for long-time Vital Information guitarist Frank Gambale on a four-week Vital Information tour of Europe. He joined the band as a full-time member in July of 2006.
The group’s 1998 recording, Where We Come From, was a new beginning for Vital Information. The band had decided to reintroduce itself to its members’ musical roots.
The result ran the stylistic gamut from James Brown funk to Booker T & The MG’s Memphis soul to searing Tony Williams Lifetime-inspired fusion while making further allusions to jazz icons like Buddy Rich, Jimmy Smith, Wes Montgomery and Ornette Coleman.
That Americanized formula became more clarified on 2000’s Live Around The World, and their group chemistry solidified on 2001’s Show ‘Em Where You Live. Come on In was released in 2004.
On the band’s twelfth album, Vitalization, Vital Information continues to hone its “U.S. music” direction while staking out some adventurous new territory. The seasoned veterans cover a lot of bases on Vitalization and do it all in such convincing fashion.
There isn’t a more flexible and disciplined band of killer players on the jazz scene today than Vital Information.