Most solo albums by sideman drummers are disappointments – not this one. It goes way beyond the call of duty. Vinnie’s obviously been a great listener during his time playing with Frank Zappa, Joni Mitchell, Sting and Chick Corea because he’s assimilated their compositional styles, analysed what works for him and come up with his own signature sound.
There’s enough great drumming to be getting on with here if that’s your bag, showcasing all of Vinnie’s odd-time prowess and tasty groove playing, but he easily sidesteps musical pigeonholing by making every track completely different to the last. There are a few tunes that would register as hi-tech fusion, but others are influenced by acoustic jazz, jazz/rap, old school jazz/rock and even House.
So we get a frightening psychedelic jazz workout like ‘Chauncey’, complete with samples of the Bulgarian State Female Choir and an agreeably-soporofic Sting bassline, followed by the McLaughlin-esque, stately ‘John’s Blues’ with some gorgeous muted trumpet by Jeff Beal. ‘Slink’ is a superb mash-up of a New Tony Williams Lifetime groove and saxophone/trumpet head straight out of Nefertiti-era Miles.
Chick Corea and John Patitucci play a blinder on the tender acoustic ballad ‘Darlene’s Song’ and Herbie Hancock borrows a Yamaha piano and delivers a typically brilliant solo on the dreamy house/jazz groove ‘Momoska’.
Dominic Miller and Mike Landau add some beautiful, textured guitar playing throughout and Vinnie’s ‘stuck record’ beat displacements on ‘I’m Tweaked’ sound as out-there today as they did in 1994. No other drummer on earth would have had the balls to do that. Elsewhere, one detects elements of Frank Zappa’s and Chick Corea’s music but it’s all shot through with Vinnie’s good humour and irreverent style-mashing.
By all accounts, and outlined by Vinnie in the fine liner notes, the recording of the album was a pretty rushed affair, fitted in around sessions in studios all across the globe. You can bet that a few favours were called in. But you’d never know it from the quality of the playing and compositions – the only clue might be the slightly lacklustre mixing and mastering (somewhat of a surprise when you see Hugh Padgham’s name on the album credits).
Vinnie is yet to follow up this impressive debut which is a shame. He would seem to have a lot to offer from a compositional standpoint, not least a taste for the unpredictable – nothing to be sniffed at. It would also be a shame if only drummers heard it because it pretty much has something for everyone.