June 18, 2024


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CD review: Steve Gadd, Eddie Gomez, Ronnie Cuber, WDR Big Band – Center Stage 2022: Video, CD cover

As big band leader and rising star Olivia Murphy has lamented, the UK lacks standing bands like the Danish Radio Big Band, or as here, The WDR Big Band.

What a treat it would be for the likes of Gadd or Gomez to record with a British radio band, under the baton of someone like Murphy or Iles.

This set is no game changer: it was never meant to be, but the presence of jazz royalty like the aforementioned and Ronnie Cuber’s bluff baritone make this an enjoyable, bluesy, post bop run out with a funk edge as per the opening Wonder-tune ‘Signed, Sealed, Delivered’. And of course the WDR aren’t only a passive platform for the imported ‘talent’: under Michael Abene’s baton Bruno Muller gets to do his BB King thang on the good time shuffle of ‘Watching the River Flow’, and although Gomez goes for the limelight on ‘Che Ore So’ it’s Ludwig Nuss’s sweet trombone that steals the show. Gadd himself plays distinctly within himself but evidently enjoys the session.

One of the most in-demand session drummers in the history of recorded music, the legendary Steve Gadd – whose myriad credits range from The Carpenters to Steely Dan – shows no sign of slowing down at the venerable age of 77. Nor does his partner in crime on this project, Puerto Rican double bassist Eddie Gomez, who’s the same age and is best remembered for his stellar work alongside the jazz pianist Bill Evans. Joining them is 80-year-old Ronnie Cuber, a baritone saxophone specialist who also has a long string of impressive session credits (everyone from George Benson to Dr. John and Billy Joel).

Showing that age is no barrier to creative vitality, the trio – who played together as members of the Gadd Gang back in the 1980s – are supported by the relatively youthful Bobby Sparks III  and Simon Oslender (who both share keyboard duties) along with guitarist, Bruno Müller, who excels in channeling the soulful spirit of fretboard maven Eric Gale. Adding a glossy sheen and a good helping of razzamatazz to the proceedings is the WDR Big Band, under the skilled supervision of arranger/conductor Michale Abene.

Opening with an ebullient version of Stevie Wonder’s ‘Signed, Sealed, Delivered’ – whose classy R&B-meets-jazz arrangement evokes memories of Stuff, the ‘70s supergroup that Gadd played with – the album winds its way through a blend of covers and original material that attests to the undimmed musicality of its three central protagonists. Standouts range from vibrant interpretations of Buddy Miles’ ‘Them Changes’ and Otis Redding’s ‘Can’t Turn You Loose,’  both emphasizing the lively interplay between the soloists and the horn section, and a lovely reading of Italian singer/songwriter Pino Daniele’s haunting ballad ‘Che Ore So,’ a showcase for Cuber’s sensitive baritone work as well as Gomez’s inventive bass playing.  A demonstration of the trio’s affinity for the blues is revealed in their subtle reading of organ maestro Bill Doggett’s 1956 US R&B smash, ‘Honky Tonk’ which is dovetailed with the old Ray Charles hit, ‘I Can’t Stop Loving You.’

The album closes with the gospel-infused ‘My Little Brother,’ a song Gadd wrote and recorded on his 1984 solo album, ‘Gaddabout,’ which featured Ronnie Cuber; his baritone saxophone is also prominent on this new version, which features exquisite woodwind arrangements, and rounds off the album on a euphoric, feel-good note.

In the world of pop music, where newness is celebrated at the expense of what is long established, youth is always equated with innovation but as this warmly satisfying album shows, there’s no substitute for the well-honed sense of craftsmanship that experience and maturity brings.

1 Signed, Sealed, Delivered
2 Watching The River Flow
3 I Can’t Turn You Loose
4 Che Ore So
5 Them Changes
6 Way Back Home
7 Lucky 13
8 Honky Tonk / I Can’t Stop Loving You
9 My Little Brother
10 Things Ain’t What They Used To Be

Steve Gadd – drums
Eddie Gomez – bass
Ronnie Cuber – baritone saxophone
The WDR Big Band

Steve Gadd; Eddie Gomez; Ronnie Cuber; WDR Big Band, Center Stage (feat. WDR  Big Band) in High-Resolution Audio - ProStudioMasters

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