Dylan Howe on Steve Gadd

Steve Gadd And Friends – Live At Voce – Recorded in November 2009

Steve Gadd, born in Rochester, New York 65 years ago, rightly sits among the best of the best, he’s in the pantheon of legendary drummers. To me, a teenager in the 1980’s, Gadd was the session drummer. I hadn’t learnt about Earl Palmer, Hal Blaine, Al Jackson, Bernard Pudrie, Dennis Davis, Andy Newmark or our own Clem Cattini yet. I knew some of their recordings and was starting to realise through reading the credits on the back of my dad’s album collection, that there were musicians names that were appearing again and again for many different artists – that wasn’t happening with Larry Mullen Jr or Duran Duran’s Roger Taylor… There must be a secret handpicked gang of the best, a kind of Avengers of the drum world (I was reading A LOT of Marvel comics then) – who were they? And, could I ever be as good as those (mostly) American guys?

Can you remember where you were the first time you heard: the intro to 50 Ways To Leave Your Lover, the fills into verses of Chuck E’s In Love and the drum solo on Aja? These cuts by Paul Simon, Rickie Lee Jones and Steely Dan helped to make Gadd in a time when gifted drummers could have a real creative input in pop music, I can’t imagine any of those ideas making it to the final mix now..

Gadd’s CV is almost an embarrassment of over-achievement – encompassing everyone from Paul McCartney, James Brown, Frank Sinatra, Chick Corea, Michel Petrucciani, Weather Report, James Taylor to his recent tenure with Eric Clapton, among many others.

Gadd has led groups since the mid 1970’s with his band Stuff (featuring keyboardist Richard Tee and guitarist Cornell Dupree amongst other talented session players) and also The Gadd Gang. This new album, recorded live in 2009, is very much in the same mold of these previous incarnations. It sees him teamed with some very gifted foils in Joey DeFrancesco (Hammond organ and trumpet), Frank Zappa and Mingus Big Band’s Ronnie Cuber (baritone saxophone) and Paul Bollenbeck (guitar). Ok, now let’s get down to the album review; first, a couple of disappointments…

This is a standard issue groove based workout. It’s just playing, for the fun of doing it. You might hear these tunes in this order in many bars and pubs worldwide, played at a varying degree of quality and execution of course, There are no real arrangements, multifaceted dynamic or concept involved.

From the opener Watching The River Flow – a mid tempo shuffle that Gadd chooses to play mostly quarter notes on the ride cymbal; not many consistent swung eighth notes in sight, strangely, on the most important sound source on the kit in a shuffle…I know Al Jackson did it on Green Onions but it doesn’t work in the same way here. To Way Back Home; a Mercy Mercy type workout, through to Georgia On My Mind, Back At The Chicken Shack and closing with Sister Sadie, you might well imagine how this would sound…

Maybe there’s nothing wrong with all this. I just felt I wanted a little more from players of this caliber.
BUT – now the points to celebrate: On tracks like Way Back Home and Them Changes (with its brilliant A section tune) Gadd is in his comfort zone. This is his straight eighth backbeat groove – he owns it, there is something great and unique going on. It’s what SG is a master of and when he lays down his signature feel in this way you really connect with the music and know why he’s had the career he has.

On Them Changes, by the time you get to the sax-drum breakdown, with Gadd doing his off-beat bell of the ride with hi-hat combination open groove and Cuber wailing into a repeat duo with DeFrancesco doing a clav funk workout, building into a simply great drum solo, it’s then you know why you paid your entrance fee – a definite high point – this you will hear nowhere else! Also on some of the pieces he plays brushes on, for instance Bye Bye Blackbird (featuring a great Miles-esque solo by DeFrancesco) and Georgia, Gadd sounds very soulful and makes you appreciate his ‘deep pocket’.

The new CD “Voce” is a good avenue into an important drummer and his vast recording history. The legend that is Steve Gadd deserves to be heard on every possible occasion.

See Dylan Howe at Fleece Jazz on Friday 13th August.

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