What do you get when you put together members of the Mahavishnu Orchestra, Journey, the Flecktones and the Allman Brothers Band? Well, if you happen to be super-drummer Steve Smith, you get an instrumental quartet that plays muscular jazz-rock fusion with an absolute vengeance. While Smith's artistic résumé merely began with Journey and has blossomed to include fusion showcases such as Steps Ahead and Vital Information, it's the talented company he keeps that makes this project especially interesting.
Chicagoan Jerry Goodman is one of the undisputed masters of the electric violin, and his playing here is both powerful and passionate. The eclectic Howard Levy plays keyboards and harmonica with equal skill, and his imaginative contributions help the band stay good-natured and well-grounded. With virtuoso bassist Oteil Burbridge keeping pace alongside Steve Smith's powerhouse drumming, The Stranger's Hand is a roller-coaster ride of flamboyant-yet-tasteful musicianship.
Illuminating an exciting union of blues, rock and jazz, these four men pursue an interactive discipline that would baffle and frustrate lesser instrumentalists. Playing their compositions with blinding speed, immaculate precision and uninhibited grandeur, this quartet proves without a doubt that the oft-maligned fusion genre is alive and well, and experiencing something of a renaissance.
Mitch Myers writes about music for the Metro Times. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.