Thursday, June 25, 2015

The Steve Gadd Band: 70 Strong

BFM Jazz
By Ric Bang
Buy CD: 70 Strong

Those who don’t know Steve Gadd must not be serious jazz fans. He’s not merely one of the top drummers working today; he’s an impressively prolific, experienced and in-demand artist, when it comes to his fellow musicians. He has participated on more than 150 albums produced by top artists and groups during his 40 years as a professional. 

He was born in 1945 in a suburb of Rochester, New York, began drum lessons when he was 7, and was sitting in with Dizzy Gillespie by age 11. Gadd attended both the Manhattan School of Music and Eastman School of Music. After graduation, he joined Chuck Mangione’s band; Gadd’s first recording session was in 1968, on Mangione’s debut album.

Gadd spent three years in the Army, with their Jazz Ambassadors band. After his military service, he began playing with some of that period’s best groups: Chick Corea, Simon and Garfunkel, Steely Dan, Carly Simon, Eric Clapton, B.B. King and Quincy Jones, to name a few. He also worked with James Taylor and in many, many studio bands while backing vocal icons. (Note the wide variation of styles.)

Gadd’s tasteful percussion work has made him a first-call favorite with vocalists. One example is Paul Simon’s “Fifty Ways to Leave Your Lover,” and I still get a kick out of Gadd’s phrasing on that gem.

This new album celebrates Gadd’s 70th birthday. It’s done with a quintet format, featuring Walt Fowler on trumpet and flugelhorn, Larry Goldings on keyboards and accordion, Jimmy Johnson on bass, and Michael Landau on guitars. As is usually the case with Gadd, the tracks concentrate more on these side artists ... but Gadd’s work backing and driving the group is fantastic; pay attention to the timing, accents and fills on “Foan Home,” the album’s opening track.

Another of Gadd’s notable characteristics is his love of moderate to balladic tempos; this album has no flag-wavers or drum solos, just great, tasty drumming on a wide range of musical styles.

Here’s to another quarter-century, Steve!

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