Smith’s skill on drums a gas at the Van Dyck

It seems hard for a drummer like Steve Smith to focus on the music, to groove with the band; he know

It seems hard for a drummer like Steve Smith to focus on the music, to groove with the band; he knows all eyes in the room are on him, and the crowd is waiting for his next move, his next interesting fill, which needs to be more interesting and more exciting than the previous fill.

Smith played two crowded shows at the Van Dyke Sunday night. His plays like no one else and more like Buddy Rich than anyone else, particularly Rich’s later days as he played more funk, and even rock, and less swing.

Smith swings, though never for long. After a few bars in any beat, he’s off the ride cymbal and traveling up and down his set, his technical skills boundless, his chops tireless, his imagination not his strongest suit, but it’s not really needed amid all his razzle dazzle.

His four players were headlines of their own: Andy Fusco, a long-time sax player for Buddy Rich, started the group in the ’90s with Smith as a Buddy Rich tribute band; Mark Soskin on piano; Baron Browne on bass; and Vinny Valentino on guitar.

The group was a mix of Smith’s two groups: Vital Information, a funky fusion group, and Jazz Legacy, which pays tribute to the great jazz drummers, like they did to Elvin Jones Sunday night. The group visited both styles, though the later show was heavy on the funk.

It’s hard to take your eyes off Smith during the show. And while Fusco and the others know that a lot of the audience members are drummers, they still have to dig hard into their solos. Smith is all over his set through the other solos, and during extended fills during say, a sax solo, you think Smith has lost his place in the tune, but not only does he know exactly where he is, he’s also playing with the soloist. All the while his left foot — his hi-hat — is clacking in half-time like a human metronome maintaining momentum.

Often, during his numerous solos, he’d slow the tempo of his arms without slowing his feet, a true feat of independent drumming. He took his most extended solo during his Art Blakey tribute, “A Night in Tunisia.”

“Are you happy?” Smith yelled after tearing apart an uptempo swing tune.

Smith sits with his drums in the front of the stage — like Tony Williams — facing the band. We look at his side and back, so we can see his arms and feet working. He’s a small man with a powerful style. He uses his fingers to generate stick speed, saving his arms and wrists from doing all the work.

One of the more interesting musical moments was Smith cranking away on his drums over a soft, pretty guitar intro. It was like a drum solo over the beginning of “Dear Prudence.” At first it seemed out of place, but it eventually came together around a bend or two to make perfect sense.

Smith’s most musical playing was during his brush work. He plays brushes hard, like sticks, but it’s a gas to watch.

Ironically, while Smith has been busy playing the music of the great drummers, he has become one of them. So yes, it’s good he also played a few of his band’s originals, since he’s on the “great drummers” list now.

Categories: Entertainment, Life and Arts

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