The Basement, December 14
The expectant buzz for this one thickened the sweltering air still more. Steve Gadd has been to Australia several times, but not leading his own band. The room was crammed with musicians eager to hear what the world’s most imitated drummer does when he’s not making Eric Clapton, James Taylor, Chick Corea or countless other artists across the gamut of jazz, rock, folk and r&b sound better than they would without him.
The answer is that the Steve Gadd Band is like a snapshot of the man’s career, with its combination of feel-good grooves, opened-up jazz, searing blues, sharp arrangements and impeccable musicianship. Mostly it lurked close to r&b, but with more emphasis on improvisation.
Gadd never imposed his ridiculous virtuosity on the music in any gauche way, preferring to dig grooves with bassist Jimmy Johnson until they were about as deep as the Mariana Trench, and then periodically detonate untold drama across an ostinato at the end of a tune. While these bursts were certainly thrilling enough, a deeper magic lay in the grooves themselves, whether a slow blues, a shuffle, a funky back-beat, a swishing ballad, or something jazzier. In terms of placement, weight, accents, syncopations and textures Gadd was close to perfection. Yet if perfection implies sterility, this was its opposite.
Guitarist Michael Landau penned several of the pieces and was justifiably the most featured improviser. I heard at least three of the great guitar solos of my life in this concert: incendiary in line and sound, and eschewing cliche for surprise after surprise.
While also a fine soloist Johnson is primarily one of the world’s great electric bassists because of his ability to make the grooves so slippery and lithe – Teflon-coating Gadd’s drumming, if you like. Completing the band were trumpeter Walt Fowler’s flair for lyricism and for throwing the music into more understated emotional territory, which is also where guest keyboards player Kevin Hays preferred to lurk, mostly building simple, soulful electric piano forays.