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Steve Gadd Band: 70 Strong

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Nearly every listening experience involves expectations based on scenario, instrumentation and personnel. When the occasion is supreme studio drummer Steve Gadd’s 70th birthday recording-with trumpeter Walt Fowler, guitarist Michael Landau, keyboardist Larry Goldings and bassist Jimmy Johnson-those expectations become understandably high. Perhaps unfairly so, because 70 Strong comes across as surprisingly one-dimensional considering these musicians’ work with artists like Allan Holdsworth, Michael Brecker, Joni Mitchell, Paul Simon, Steely Dan and Frank Zappa.

It doesn’t start out that way. The opening “Foam Home,” co-composed by the entire quintet, features Gadd’s impeccable midtempo funk artistry-a staggered lockstep with Johnson that drives Goldings’ throwback Fender Rhodes and Wurlitzer tones and the evocative solos by Fowler and Landau. The subsequent playful, New Orleans-tinged take on Eddie Harris’ “Freedom Jazz Dance” features an anchoring Johnson bassline that Gadd and his mates dance around. Goldings’ “Written in Stone” then begins a series of compositions by individual band members. The shift to a slower pulse that occurs here, with Goldings on accordion and Landau providing Americana twang à la Bill Frisell, would make for effective sequencing if the remainder of the CD was more diverse.

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