Vital Tech Tones: VTT2 (CD, 56:27); Tone Center TC-40082, 2000
Ever find yourself wandering the record store or surfing the cyber coffers for jazz fusion with edge, with virtuosity, and vitality? Yeah, there's enuff dross out there playing at being fusion but is infected with smooth jazz fuzak virus. You know the stuff, a waste of $18 or $19 bucks, better as a coaster than for listening to for any length of time. Well look no further, fusion fans, VTT2 delivers all the funky, bluesy, rocking out, high-energy, jazz fusion you need. It seems Steve Smith, Scott Henderson, and Victor Wooten must have sold enough discs with "VTT1" to do it again. I'm glad they came back full-force too versus tossing out some limp echo of their initially effective fusion attack. And so what of this offering you ask? If you wanted Henderson to keep on being the fusion "Wildman" then he fills the bill. That guy is outta control! He punishes his "Ma" with that axe, riding the whammy bar 90% of the time, overdriven, oh so blue, and ever loose in interpretation but tight on every time sig and unison line turn. Wooten's bass work rivals the immortal Stanley Clarke at times and goes a few steps ahead. "Slap dat thing Vic!" Hmmm good! Now Mr. Smith is a drummin' dynamo everywhere and responds/feels/moves/drives/fills everywhere perfectly. The spirit of the ETERNAL JAM reigns throughout on this disk with nary a pre-packaged moment. Everybody feels at home with anything his band mate chooses to do and makes it work. One thing I admire about Henderson is when other fusion/bluesy rockers find a cool note run or bend they may hit it two or three times to say, "Listen to that . . ." but "Wildman" Henderson may bang on that sucker like a manic obsessive, woodpecker, milking it, squeezing it, stopping-time, trance-riffin' and all the time Wooten and Smith just groove on. It is this very type of fusion freedom that adds suspense and evokes true soul-fire in the passing eternity of the moment. This is what is phat about VTT2. Did I mention the signature Hendersonic abuse of a Wah-Wah pedal? Thank you, Scott. Ten trax of cool, fast, slow, meandering, racing, dreamy, screamin' jams await you fusaholics again. Methinks Tone Center's label has become a torch for fusion that all other record labels may see "the light beyond", (see related review). Highest recommendations, once again, for the VTT dudes. ~ John W. Patterson
Scott Henderson, Steve Smith, Victor Wooten: Vital Tech Tones (CD, 60:16); Tone Center/ Shrapnel Records TC40002, 1998 Contact Info: Tone Center P.O. Box P Novato, CA 94948 USA
Mike Varney wanted a powerhouse release to inaugurate his "Tone Center" fusion offshoot of Shrapnel Records. He of course thought of some of the very best artists to pull together for this project. I need not go into detail over each artist�s abilities. One or two words says it all -- awesome monsters. For those of you who don�t know, Scott Henderson gets around. With his fine self-formed band Tribal Tech he has released a string of awesome fusion and solo�ed a few hot blues releases. He has worked with Chick Corea, Jean Luc Ponty, Jeff Berlin, and Joe Zawinul. Steve Smith is one excellent drummmer, having worked with Journey, Jean Luc Ponty, Steps Ahead, Randy Brecker, Allan Holdsworth, Frank Gambale, Stanley Clarke, Stu Hamm, and many more big names. His Vital Information group is his main jazz project. And who is Victor Wooten? He is the magical low end for Bela Fleck and the Flecktones. He too has released superb solo works. So how do these guys do jammin� together? I suppose the summary phrases could be: '90's fusion, relaxed jazzy finesse, bluesy funked rock jams, room to stretch, great musicians having fun -- playing what they want -- no genre limits here. Only on their cover of Coltrane's "Giant Steps" is there a guideline and even here they augment, interpret, solo, and play their own brand of tribute with fluid ease and perfection. Ah yes, they also cover Henderson's "Dr. Hee" from an ancient Tribal Tech release --with a new twist. For a chance to hear Wooten and Smith boogie down, sample "Two For One". To hear Henderson go ballistic into the nether regions of fusion, skip tracks to "Lie Detector". Smith and Wooten were being pushed to speeds where trance-state/ reflex muscle-memory action takes over and the mind quits tryin' to analyze the next step. Wow! For in-your-face bluesy explosions of guitar in that SRV/Michael Lee Firkins feel, (but way cranked up!), check out Henderson abusing his wah-wah on "King Twang". My favorite track overall, for inspired, "breaking-outta-the mold", dreamy Holdsworthian intro, otherworldy mystique, and eerie atmospherics is "The Captors". It sounded a lot like things Henderson was doing with Tribal Tech on Reality Check. Henderson's solo, with distorto-alternate-dimension, guitar work reminded me of the sound-worlds John McLaughlin was offering in his guitar-synth experimentations. Superb, superb, superb! Yeah, there are some tunes on here that didn't make me go "ga-ga" -- great musicianship but song composition left my mind adrift. But overall this release is a winner. Recommended. This has been a fun ride. I bet they do it again! ~ John W. Patterson
Personnel: Scott Henderson, on guitar Steve Smith, drums Victor Wooten, bass (throat singing on "The Captors")
Track listing: 1. Crash Course 2. Snake Soda 3. Dr. Hee 4. Everglades 5. Two For One 6. King Twang 7. The Captors 8. Giant Steps 9. Lie Detector
|Scott Henderson, Steve Smith, Victor Wooten: Vital Tech Tones|
|1998, Tone Center|
Members of the jazz fusion groups Vital Information, Tribal Tech, and the Flecktones team up to form the Vital Tech Tones on this uninhibited fusion extravaganza that might be easier to describe by what it is not rather than by what it is. Vital Tech Tones integrates so many different musical elements from so many different musical styles that it would be very difficult to articulate them all and how they are integrated together. Be prepared to bring your full attention span when listening to this album, because you will need it all to follow everything that the trio is going to throw your way. It took me a number of listenings to get my mind around the whole album and to get it into some frame of reference to understand it by. The musical frame does not sit still for the duration of the album and the constantly changing soundscape deploys complex ideas from many different genres and styles of music, as you may have expected from Scott Henderson's fusionistic style. If you are looking for something that is nice, soothing, and reassuringly repetitive and relaxing to lull you into a trance, you had better look someplace else because this is not it.
Vital Tech Tones is a very progressive collaboration of highly-skilled musicians that push their capabilities to the limits of their intelligence. The instrumentation is state of the art for jazz fusion. Guitar, bass, drums... they are all superb. The style is diverse but definitely has the trademark Henderson biting, hard edge to it. But, there is a lot more sophistication to it and I wouldn't want to characterize it altogether that way. Henderson seamlessly weaves jazzy, bluesy, and rock-ish phrasings together over complex chordal harmonies making the listener forget that the vocabulary he draws from spans many different genres and styles.
Vital Tech Tones seems like it is geared towards the techie-musician listener audience due to its progressive nature. Though there are several tracks that may be more widely accessible, I am thinking that the accessibility to a musically uneducated audience is probably pretty remote. But, for the educated ear, there is a lot to absorb and jazz fusion fanatics will probably enjoy this effort immensely. And, the sound is not too far outside that it is not digestible.
There are several tracks on this album that struck my fancy. "Snake Soda" is a real fusion bullet that is smoking with driving, raw jazz, rock, and blues phrasing. "King Twang" has a Henderson spin on the blues that features some raucous bluesy riffing put into a quickly moving frame. The trio cover the jazz standard "Giant Steps" with a vision and style that is sure to raise your brow if you are familiar with any of the earlier versions, such as that by John Coltrane. Wooten gets down on the bass in "Giant Steps" with some soloing that is sure to impress the most staunch bass critics. It is really interesting to hear the chord progressions voiced on the guitar and Henderson gives the interpretation a character that brings them to life.
Vital Tech Tones is lesson material for any aspiring guitarists, bassists, and drummers. Musicians, jazz fusion connoisseurs, and Henderson fans will probably constitute the bulk of the happy listening audience for this album. The outstanding technical proficiency and high art demonstrated on Vital Tech Tones will surely strike a resonance with the educated audience.
|1) Crash Course|
|2) Snake Soda|
|3) Dr. Hee|
|5) Two For One|
|6) King Twang|
|7) The Captors|
|8) Giant Steps|
|9) Lie Detector|
|Vital Tech Tones: VTT2|
|2000, Tone Center|
The Vital Tech Tones reuinite to produce their second exotic fusion effort to date, VTT2. VTT2 follows suit with the original release from Vital Tech Tones. The format, style, and sound are similar. This release again features more hard-hitting instrumental intensity from Henderson, Wooten, and Smith. Henderson's guitar work once again spans many styles but has a biting, aggressive edge to it that gives a recognizable, signature character to the diverse harmonies that he explores. The technically intensive nature of VTT2 will probably lend it best to an audience with a well-educated listening ear and a taste for sophisticated jazz fusion. Though not altogether inaccessible to a general listening audience, I have doubts about the accessibility of this progressive material to the musically uneducated masses.
Once again as with the original release from the trio, I had to listen to this album a number of times before I could get a handle on it. The group throws a lot at you and it is not easy to absorb it all the first time through. But, there are definitely several tracks on this effort that caught my attention more than the others. "Catch Me If U Can" is a funky little groove that features some really awesome bass work by Wooten that trades off with Henderson's resolved soloing. "Who Knew?" is an accessible track that centers around Henderson's tremolo and vibrato work that pulls the tasty melodies slightly away from the tonal centers throughout in a manner that makes them a little disoriented and evasive, though appealingly so. The guitar and bass solo work that accompanies utilizes the same tremolo and vibrato effects, achieving a very cool result. There is a certain emotional feel that is articulated with these effects that really conveys the title "Who Knew?". This track is definitely my favorite from VTT2.
If you like progressive, intensive, instrumental jazz fusion, VTT2 will find a good home in your collection. Henderson's axework is impressive and is presented in an earth-bound format on this release. Victor Wooten romps all over the bass. His playing is technically advanced, proficient, inspired, and hits the target with accessible grooves and musical ideas. Though I am primarily a guitarist and admittedly guitar-centric, Wooten's bass playing was the highlight of this album for me. Steve Smith livens up the rhythm section with his unique brand of savvy percussion work that lends style, sophistication, and character to the tracks.
|3) The Litigants|
|4) Puhtainin' Tuh...|
|5) Drums Stop, No Good|
|6) Catch Me If U Can|
|7) Nairobe Express|
|8) Who Knew?|
|9) Time Tunnel|