Steve Smith and Buddy's Buddies
is hardly the first tribute to the legendary jazz drummer Buddy Rich, but it is perhaps the first to bring to life the small-group aspect of Rich's enormous legacy. While previous recorded tips of the hat to Rich have focused on his influential big-band work, Buddy's Buddies
gathers some of Rich's former sidemen with superstar drummer Steve Smith for a rewarding shot of small-group jazz as intense as Rich's own work in this context. Since this is a tribute to
a drummer, much of the focus here is on Smith, and given his cultlike status in musician circles (earned through his varied playing with everyone from Journey to his own jazz-fusion band Vital Information), it's no surprise that he doesn't disappoint--bursting out of the gate on "Nutville" with some ridiculously complex drum fills and going into hyerdrive on the super-uptempo "Airegin" for some telepathic interplay with saxophonists Steve Marcus and Andy Fusco. But it's the rest of the band that makes this far more than a drum clinic or otherwise empty nostalgia recording. Marcus's lyrical soprano solo lights up a beautifully arranged version of the Beatles' "Norwegian Wood," and the whole band swings with effortless ease on "New Blues," transforming what could have been a mere tribute album into a no-holds-barred session that stands just fine on its own--just the way Rich undoubtedly would have wanted it. --Ezra Gale
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