CD review: Steve Gadd Band – At Blue Note Tokyo (Live) 2021: Video, CD cover

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The living legend, drummer Steve Gadd, is still very much at it. Gadd, of course, won Grammys in 2017 and 2019 with this band (or the core of it) and boasts a resume like few others.

This live date, At Blue Note Tokyo, is one of his groove steady outings as he lays mostly in the pocket driving his band in a live version of the sound his band delivered on 2019’s Steve Gadd Band. He is joined by longtime Steve Gadd Band (SGB) members bassist Jimmy Johnson, trumpeter Walt Fowler, and newer member Kevin Hays on keyboards. Guitarist David Spinozza, an associate and frequent jazz-fusion sideman for many in the ‘70s, replaces guitarist Michael Landau for this date, as Landau could not make the tour.

In jazz circles, we most commonly associate Gadd with the late Chick Corea, and the two joined forces on the fine Chick Corea – Steve Gadd Band just three and half years ago, not to mention their many previous engagements. Consider the span of talent Gadd has played with. Gadd’s performances on Paul Simon‘s “50 Ways to Leave Your Lover” and “Late in the Evening” and Steely Dan‘s “Aja” are examples of his innovative style. His band were longtime backers of James Taylor. He’s also been a key session man for Simon & Garfunkel, Steely Dan, Harry Chapin, Joe Cocker, Grover Washington Jr., Lee Ritenour, Paul Desmond, Chuck Mangione, Chet Baker, Al Di Meola, Kenny Loggins, Eric Clapton, Michel Petrucciani, and Toshiki Kadomatsu. And those names, are just a few. We could go back to his work on this great CTI albums in ‘70s for example.

Speaking of extensive resumes, David Spinozza is one of those “few others” who is comparable to Gadd. Look him up as you reflect on this – Spinozza played the guitar solo on Dr. John‘s hit, “Right Place Wrong Time”, Paul Simon‘s albums Paul Simon and There Goes Rhymin’ Simon, and Don McLean‘s American Pie. Spinozza has long been Roberta Flack’s guitarist and was a member of the Saturday Night Live band from 1980 to 1982. He also conducted that band in 1980 and 1981. Arguably, Spinozza is the real star of this show with his stinging, blues-tinged solos, and natural funky feel. He shines on the Duke Gadd-Landau opener “Where’s Earth?” and their funk workout “Rat Race,” as well as on Fowler’s Latin-flavored “Timpanogos,” Wilton Felder’s “Way Back Home,” his own bluesy “Hidden Drive,” and the jazzy, lyrical “She Doesn’t Know Me By Now.”

Keyboardist Kevin Hays, well respected in New York jazz circles, alternates between piano and Rhodes and takes a vocal turn twice – on his funky “Walk With Me” and the eminent SGB closer, Bob Dylan’s “Watching the River Flow,” about which Gadd says, “I recorded that song on a Joe Cocker album that Allen Toussaint produced (1978’s Luxury You Can Afford) and Joe did it like a shuffle. And when I recorded it again with The Gadd Gand (n 1986’s self-titled album for Columbia Records) we also did it as a shuffle.” (Note that Dylan did it as a “Mystery Train” type rocker). Another favorite is “Way Back Home,” the title track of the album that won this band a Grammy in 2017, originally from The Crusaders and done by Gadd on The Gadd Gang and Live at Voce. To change it up some, Gadd uses brushes instead of sticks for a different effect on this version.

Gadd is so content to just push the groove that he solos only once, and even then, economically on Johnson’s “One Point Five.” Hearing Gadd in recent interviews commemorating his longtime friend Chick Corea, this writer can attest to Gadd’s humility and modesty. The fact that he has worked with so many musicians in so many varying settings is a much stronger testament. It takes more than talent alone to accomplish that. This date is just a brief snapshot of five masters of their respective crafts merging their talents for a steady, percolating, grooving good time – no histrionics or showboating allowed.

  1. Where’s Earth? (Live) (7:07)
  2. Doesn’t She Know by Now (Live) (6:26)
  3. Timpanogos (Live) (5:46)
  4. Hidden Drive (Live) (7:18)
  5. Walk with Me (Live) (6:06)
  6. One Point Five (Live) (4:54)
  7. Way Back Home (Live) (9:20)
  8. Rat Race (Live) (7:35)
  9. Watching the River Flow (Live) (5:45)

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