This is the fourth release, a self-titled one for Steve Gadd’s own band, following closely the release of Gadd’s collaboration with Chick Corea just two months ago. The album features Steve Gadd on drums and handling the producer role, joined by Walt Fowler on trumpet/flugelhorn, Kevin Hays on keyboards, vocals; Jimmy Johnson on bass and Michael Landau on guitars. Fowler, Johnson and Landau are, like Gadd himself, all veterans of James Taylor’s touring band. Hays was suggested by Larry Goldings, the band’s former keyboardist. This band’s previous effort, Live from Rochester, NY in 20016 was nominated for a Best Contemporary Instrumental Album Grammy®.
There’s also immediate family involvement in this project where Gadd’s son, Duke, also a drummer, adds acoustic guitar to the third track and percussion to a couple of others. Each of the five core band members contributes originals, thereby creating a diversely rich sound palette.
This reference may be unnecessary for many, but just in case, realize that Gadd is one of the most highly acclaimed drummers in history, having performed on literally thousands of sessions and live gigs for more than four decades. Artist ranging from Steely Dan, Paul McCartney, B.B. King, George Benson, James Brown and Al Jarreau to Chick Corea contribute just a tiny percentage of his discography.
Steve Gadd Band opens with “I Know, But Tell Me Again,” one of three songs contributed by Johnson and one that allows generous stretching-out space to Hays and Landau. “Auckland By Numbers,” by Landau, moves into a ballad mode. Duke Gadd, Michael Landau and Kevin Hays co-wrote “Where’s Earth?” featuring Duke’s acoustic guitar work and epitomizing just how seamlessly his Dad can handle tricky rhythmic changes. “Foameopathy,” written by Gadd along with Larry Goldings and Walt Fowler, features thoughtful solo spots from Fowler and Landau.
Other highlights include Fowler’s extended flugelhorn soloing on the ballad-like “Norma’s Girl” and dual drumming percussion of the Gadds on Landau’s “Rat Race.” “Temporary Fault,” the only cover song on the album is from Allan Holdsworth, the master guitarist who passed last year. The song has special meaning to Jimmy Johnson, who had played with Holdsworth. “Spring Song” features the album’s only vocal, courtesy of Hays who handles it so nicely, leaving us wanting a few more. His vocals mesh nicely with the subsequent solos from Fowler and Landau.
Unlike many jazz offerings, the songs here are succinct. While there is ample soloing from Fowler, Landau and Hays, the focus is on group interplay. This is contemporary jazz that some may consider jazz-fusion. Despite similar instrumentation, the group generates a lighter, brisker sound, absent of the heavy rock elements that characterizes much of fusion. This is music for today, well composed, melodic and eminently accessible.