A second red-hot offering from one of fusion's titanic supergroups. The Tone Center record label was inaugurated in 1998 with the first meeting of this trio: Steve Smith, drummer with Vital Information and formerly Journey; Scott Henderson, Tribal Tech guitarist; and Vic Wooten, bassist with Bela Fleck and the Fleck tones. The gleesome threesome returned in 2000 with this phenomenal collection of blazing fusion jams that more than tops the intensity of their debut.
From the first notes, it's apparent that this isn't your ordinary album. Wooten reaches deep into his sack o' funk, thumping his bass and tossing out fistfuls of shimmering, sliding harmonics as he grunts out a song about him and his bandmates. A drum avalanche from Smith immediately ensues on "SubZero" as Henderson's guitar crunches and wails bluesily and Wooten kicks up sporadic punctuations. The levels of complexity in this music are simply astounding; how these three men can concentrate on such elaborate structures and still play a note with real feeling boggles the mind. Chops are present by the boatload, but VTT cuts the mix with emotion, humor and a boundless passion for what they do. The 11-minute-plus jam on "Chakmool-Ti" that wraps up the disc is testimony enough to their indefatigable creativity and endurance.
Wooten, in particular, could intimidate the pants off any lesser guitarist who stepped up to the plate. His solos are fraught with skill, ideas coming at a mile a minute, fusillades of notes that fragment the meter into microscopic elements. It takes players the caliber of Fleck, Henderson and Smith to hold their own against a bassist so discontent with the pocket. VTT is the perfect environment for such virtuosity, then, as indicated by the hairpin intricacies of their interaction. Smith, who is reportedly downright anal about the quality of productions he participates in, would not have it any other way. Even when he takes it comparatively easy, as on the bass-drum duo "Drums Stop, No Good", Smith conjures all manner of polyrhythms as mere second nature.
Scott Henderson is simply in a class by himself, a walking textbook of guitar technique and classy note selectivity. One can imagine the puddles of sweat on the floor when he wraps up a solo, if not the speed of his thoughts as they soar from brain through synapses to fingers. He continually comes up with wildly unusual touches, like the bizarre tonal effects on "Nairobe Express" that just can't be put into words. The entire album, in fact, must simply be heard to be believed. And perhaps we should leave it at that. By all means, check out this prime second offering from an esteemed trio of musicians' musicians.
Todd S. Jenkins