Steve Gadd Band ‘Way Back Home – Live from Rochester NY’ CD + 2DVD (BFM Jazz) 4/5

steve-gaddMaestro drummer and all-round percussionist, Steve Gadd is a name you may not have heard, but you have undoubtedly heard his drum patterns on numerous recordings that range from the 1970s recordings of Paul Simon, to the propelled beats of epic disco classic, ‘The hustle’, by Van McCoy, to Bonnie Raitt and James Brown, and least, but by no means least, the countless jazz albums from Chick Corea and Bob James, to Stan Getz and beyond. The only surprise is that he has not received this kind of tribute earlier.
This package that coincides with his seventieth birthday is less an audio-visual reflection of his latest live project, but more of an overview or summation of his career to date. It works best when it chronicles his musical career as on the excellent forty-five minute documentary that includes testimonies from close friends, family and musicians such as Chuck Mangione. These reveal what a prodigious student of music Gadd was and how he quickly moved from sleepy Rochester to the heart of New York City. His teacher and fellow pupil, bassist Tony Levin cast valuable light on his rise to being one of the most in-demand drummers of the modern era. Moreover, the leader’s laid back character, yet virtuoso musicianship is the subject of interesting tales that gives us a real insight into the real Steve Gadd.

What, then, of the music itself? Given, the historical nature of the package as a whole, the musical content is far more contemporary and the material chosen by his own band focuses far more on his previous two studio albums, which veer towards the jazz-fusion and R & B side of the equation. Plenty of space for musicians to solo, with trumpeter/flugelhorn player Walt Fowler the other stand out, but the compositions as a whole are not all that memorable. It is pity that for the live recording so many of the most recent compositions were selected. The strongest of these were written by keyboardist Larry Goldings who excels throughout, but especially on his own, ‘Cavaliero’ and ‘Sly Boots’. For a jam session groove, fellow drummer Buddy Miles’ number, ‘Them changes’, ends the evening on a high note. That said, no questioning the enthusiasm of the local audience, or that Gadd himself is genuine humbled and moved by the experience. The only standard is an understated take on the Great American Songbook standard, ‘Bye Bye Blackbird’, that Keith Jarrett interpreted for ECM.

To recap, then, the quality of the package with excellent fold out digipak, crystal clear sound and visual presentation is first-rate. The music is pleasant, though not exactly essential, and a more balanced programme of newer material coupled with a re-working of the classic songs he has performed on would have made for a more cohesive whole and kept the listener’s attention the live CD and DVd recording . Nonetheless, for Steve Gadd fans and drumming enthusiasts, this is a real treat and a fine example to other musicians of who you can promote yourself.

Tim Stenhouse