Though drummer Steve Smith is known primarily as a fusion and rock drummer, his first love has always been straight-ahead hard bop as played by his heroes Art Blakey, Elvin Jones, and Tony Williams. This set of music recorded live in Hollywood, CA, at the Catalina Bar keeps those icons firmly in mind, as Smith and his Jazz Legacy quintet play straight-ahead music far removed from the harder beat-oriented sound Smith was originally known for. Two saxophonists in alto man Andy Fusco and tenorist Walt Weiskopf front the group. This stems from an earlier grouping where Smith and his bandmates played music out of the repertoire of Buddy Rich, when saxophonist Steve Marcus teamed with Fusco. Marcus passed on, Weiskopf was asked to sit in his chair, and acoustic/electric pianist Mark Soskin and electric bass guitarist Baron Browne were recruited to round out the ensemble. They play a heady mix of well-known standards rearranged by Soskin or Weiskopf, originals by Weiskopf, and some intriguing material penned by McCoy Tyner or Jimmy Garrison. The straight-ahead take of Dizzy Gillespie's "Two Bass Hit" sets a hard-swinging tone; the Tony Williams' light calypso evergreen "Sister Cheryl" has a different prelude melody after a long triplet-based drum solo from Smith; and a burning Weiskopf original, "Insubordination," takes off from standard fare, with the tenor playing the melody once through and Fusco chiming in the second time around. Tyner's "Inception" was a trio number 45 years ago, but here the horns expand and update the hummable powerhouse post-bop melody. A take of Garrison's "Ascendant" is an unusual choice, a blues with Weiskopf's flute in the cross hairs of Browne's probing amplified basslines, while a solemn version of the Jimmy Rowles composition "The Peacocks" and the light funk of "For Steve" add a bit of contrast. "A Night in Tunisia" is an out-and-out fast-and-loud blowing vehicle, while "Moanin'" pays homage to Blakey/Bobby Timmons pure soul trappings in an authentic and respectful manner. No new ground is broken here, but it's good that Smith and his cohorts acknowledge the roots of jazz that set the pace for what would follow from a pure virtuosic standpoint. It's a very competent and enjoyable effort from talented jazz performers paying homage to the elders.
AllMusic Review by Michael G. Nastos