Steve Gadd Band – 70 Strong (2015)

Steve Gadd Band - 70 Strong (2015)
Artist: Steve Gadd Band
Album: 70 Strong
Genre: Crossover Jazz/Fusion
Origin: USA
Released: 2015
Quality: mp3, 320 kbps

Tracklist:
01. Foam Home 05:54
02. Freedom Jazz Dance 06:26
03. Written In Stone 04:52
04. The Long Way Home 06:54
05. Sly Boots 06:47
06. Duke’s Anthem 07:24
07. Elegant Squares 06:53
08. Desu 06:45
09. De Volta Ao Samba 05:27
10. Oh, Yeah? 08:39
11. Blues For… 07:30

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Last month Steve Gadd celebrated his 70th birthday and also his second album with one of his currently going concerns, the Steve Gadd Band (the other one being the Edie Brickell-fronted The Gaddabouts). As Gadd enters his eighth decade on Earth, he can look back on a career that’s established him as arguably the most influential drummer playing on the most influential songs, save for that guy Ringo. “Fifty Ways To Leave Your Lover,” “Chuck E.’s In Love” and “Just The Two of Us” are only a few of the higher profile examples where his knack for what Chick Corea calls Gadd’s trademark “creative groove” show up to make a great song a classic. Deeper cuts are even more rewarding; take his tour de force on Steely Dan’s “Aja,” for starters.

These songs were from a while back but Gadd has lost nothing since those hitmaking days; we noted how he was the propulsive force in the delightful Look Out Now!, the Gaddabouts’ 2012 LP. He returned to help old friend Joe Sample just in time for Sample’s last record, the posthumously released Children of the Sun released at the beginning of 2015. Here, he brandished an innate feel for Sample’s Gulf Coast funk that could have convinced anyone that this Rochester, NY native was from New Orleans instead.

That’s no surprise; Gadd’s range of mastery is wide and deep; he’s elite in the realms of pop, jazz, RnB, blues and folk. That might make it a little hard to locate the essence of his artistry, but his own records generally do a good job of showing all sides of him. That’s been especially true of his Steve Gadd Band, an electric quintet completed by Walt Fowler (trumpet, flugelhorn), Larry Goldings (keys, accordion), Jimmy Johnson (bass) and Michael Landau (guitars). With 70 Strong, Gadd’s newest gang — a whole collection of experienced old hands — quietly injects confident youthful enthusiasm into the areas of instrumental music where jazz, rock and funk roughly coincide.

Such effortless collision of styles can be found on “Foam Home,” where Gadd’s just-right snare commands a loping beat that sets the relaxed tone for the band that belies sophistication, making this one of those kind of records that sound both good close up or far away. Landau’s solo turn interestingly shows that, for in sharp relief to his tasty blues licks, Goldings’ organ and Fowler’s horn make soul-jazz quips while Johnson’s bass line couldn’t be more in the pocket.

Following that ensemble-composed number is a cover of Eddie Harris’ outer-jazz boogie “Freedom Jazz Dance,” played in the way it might have sounded had Miles Davis recorded it in 1970 instead of 1966, but for Gadd’s slowly simmering brushes. Gadd has always appreciated a great crossover tune, and Fowler’s George Duke ode “Duke’s Anthem” is a mint jazzy soul ballad; with lyrics it could have been an RnB hit back in the day. Landau’s delectable guitar and Goldings’ B-3 is like a heaping helping of whipped cream on this sundae.

Goldings’ “Sly Boots” is a tale of two nifty rhythms with soulful organ, supple bass and more blues-drenched guitar, while “Elegant Squares” is elegant blues-jazz paced by Gadd’s brushes. Obviously, “Blues For…” is blues but with blues chords slyly substituted. Landau plays it easy and with feeling, while Goldings’ organ is smokier than a Texas Hill Country Bar-B-Q joint.

Chico Buarque’s “De Volta Ao Samba” is more of Gadd’s finesse with brushes, which is right for playing a samba, and it’s highlighted by solos from Goldings (Rhodes) and Fowler (trumpet). Jan Hammer’s galloping 1976 fusion gem “Oh Yeah?” is slowed down to a funky strut and new life is injected into the song with Fowler/Goldings (on Rhodes) engaging in call and response and Landau’s hardest rocking guitar of the album.

Following up on 2013’s Gadditude but with a stronger sense of symbiosis, 70 Strong ain’t no ‘drum clinic’ album, or an ‘ensemble album’ or a ‘great tunes’ album…it’s all of the above rolled into a solid whole. It’s a throwback of sorts, but a throwback of the best kind: the 1970s scene in New York that Gadd came into didn’t really get hung up on styles, the only question was “is it good?”, and Gadd had quickly become a vital part of whatever was good then. This album could be heard as a tribute to that spirit, making me wonder, is that 70 Strong or 70s Strong?
Review by S. Victor Aaron

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