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Way Back Home - Review in The JazzWriter

Updated: Jun 29, 2018

He’s only one of the greatest drummers on the planet: Steve Gadd. Greatness, for the purposes of this article, is defined by a combination of skill on the kit, diversity of genres, versatility as an ensemble player, sideman and leader, and, of course, longevity. Employing the same lineup for his 2015 release, 70 Strong, featuring live versions of selections from that album andGadditude, as well as some older songs, Gadd comes back in concert with Way Back Home – Live from Rochester, NY (BFM Jazz, 2016).

The package includes a CD and two DVDs – one of the concert, the other with interviews.

Along with Gadd, the players are Walt Fowler, trumpet and flugelhorn; Larry Goldings, keyboards; Jimmy Johnson, bass; and Michael Landau, guitars.

The set opens with “Green Foam,” a track from Gadd’s Gadditude album. It’s an upbeat song that features Fowler in lead, with a slick bass groove by Johnson. After a run through the melody, the song shifts gears to a discordant transition. Then back to the main theme, with Goldings out front on the second pass, making the organ sing. This phase of the song is sure to get you moving – you can dance while sitting or standing. It evolves into a straight jam where the main rhythm continues, but Goldings and Landau play around. The second downshift is something slow, soft, bluesy with Landau taking point. After Landau, we return to the main theme with Fowler out front as with the start. The discordant downshift is extended this time, with all the musicians contributing in free form, setting up the dynamic conclusion.

“Way Back Home,” a Wilton Felder composition, is one Gadd for his 1991 album The Gadd Gang. It’s a cool, moderately paced gang. Fowler covers the melody that previously was played by saxophonist Michael Brecker. Once things get going, it’s all in, as each musician gets a moment to lick his chops. During the middle break, Goldings stretches out his stretch out, building to a climax during which Fowler joins for a “let’s shake ’em up” moment. Then things go quiet with Goldings becoming ever softer until all that’s left is the basic rhythm. That’s when Gadd cranks it up on the kit, highlighted by a series of rapid-fire rolls on the snare and toms.

Gadd has been working drum sticks since he was 7, when an uncle encouraged him to take lessons. By age 11, he was sitting in with the legendary Dizzy Gillespie, and was a seasoned pro by his 20s. In the 1970s, he recorded or toured with luminaries in several genres, from Paul Simon to Steely Dan, Maynard Ferguson to Carly Simon.

Gadd has become such a legend himself, that other notables have offered high praises. Chick Corea once said, “Every drummer wants to play like Steve Gadd because he plays perfect. He has brought orchestral and compositional thinking to the drum kit while at the same time having a great imagination and great ability to swing.”

Rock icon and fellow drummer Phil Collins quipped: “How many drummers does it take to change a light bulb? Ten. And then another ten to talk about how Steve Gadd would have done it.”

The interviews are by another drummer, Rick Marotta, whose subjects include Gadd, Tony Levin and Chuck Mangione.

Woodrow Wilkins


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