December 18, 2019. There’s something surreal about looking at the date of the recording on the back cover of Steve Gadd Band at Blue Note Tokyo. In just a few short months, the world would change and incredible concerts that capture the legendary drummer’s driving aesthetic – I just love to groove. It’s all about just sharing something that feels good” – were ripped away from us.
As we look forward to their return in 2021, we can be grateful for this single night, dynamics filled chronicle of the adventurously hipster, free-flowing and slow simmering old school jazz/soul cool created by Gadd (who turned 75 last year), longtime band members Jimmy Johnson (bass), Walt Fowler (trumpet) and Kevin Hays (vocals, keyboards) and David Spinozza, filling in with crackling solos and wild, tonally inventive abandon for regular guitarist Michael Landau.
Not knowing how extinct such shows would so soon become – and just such a precious recording would serve as evidence of our pre-pandemic lives - the cats roll casually then frenetically, sensuously then energetically through a colorful set list that includes four songs from the group’s Best Contemporary Instrumental Grammy winning self-titled 2018 album.
These include the hypnotic, slow burning funk shuffle “Where’s Earth?” Fowler’s Latin-fueled fusion jam “Timpanogos,” the simmering, Landau penned funk/jazz/rocker “Rat Race” and Johnson’s jaunty, bustling and salsified romp “One Point Five” – the latter being the only tune featuring the set’s only Gadd solo (and it’s a slamming one!).
The dazzling repertoire also includes two vocal features for Hays (his own bluesy “Walk with Me” and a spirited, swampy roll through Bob Dylan’s “Watching the River Flow”) and a twist on one of Gadd’s favorites, The Crusader’s “Way Back Home,” a bubbling soul-jazzer that grooves along on the wings of Gadd’s infectious brushes.