During the concert documented on Way Back Home, drummer Steve Gadd says, “I feel a lotta love in this room tonight.” Indeed, the affection flowing between the stage and the audience is palpable and the positive energy is clearly buoying Gadd and the band, who deliver a joyous performance in Gadd’s hometown of Rochester, N.Y.
The show was recorded at Gadd’s alma mater, the Eastman School of Music, during the Xerox Rochester International Jazz Festival on June 26, 2015 (shortly after Gadd’s 70th birthday). Gadd and his stellar band-trumpeter/flugelhornist Walt Fowler, keyboardist Larry Goldings, bassist Jimmy Johnson and guitarist Michael Landau-give a master class on performing with invention and taste as they offer an infectiously grooving set drawn mostly from Gadd’s two most recent albums, Gadditude and 70 Strong.
Way Back Home is a three-disc package. The centerpiece is a DVD of the concert, and the set includes a CD version and an interview DVD. The concert DVD was shot in a fairly standard live-performance format: copious wide shots of the band performing, intercut with close-ups primarily of Gadd.
The band rollicks through the soul-jazzy “Green Foam” before decelerating for a slow-burning blues break led by Landau, and they gently swing through Landau’s moody, atmospheric composition “Africa.” On their cover of “Bye Bye Blackbird” everyone takes turns improvising on the well-known melody, and they romp through Buddy Miles’ “Them Changes” (popularized by Jimi Hendrix), which features an electrifying Gadd solo.
The CD, containing well over an hour of music, is shorter than the 90-plus-minute DVD by four tracks. It’s a shame the band’s spirited take on Keith Jarrett’s “The Windup” and the ballad “Duke’s Anthem,” Fowler’s heartfelt tribute to his deceased friend and former Frank Zappa bandmate George Duke, didn’t make it onto the CD, as they’re among the concert’s highlights.
Don’t skip the bonus DVD. Along with a Q&A with Gadd, conducted by drummer Rick Marotta, it contains interview clips featuring members of Gadd’s family, key people in his life like his college instructor John Beck, and musician friends like Chuck Mangione, Gap Mangione and Tony Levin. Together, they provide fascinating insight into Gadd’s youth, development as an artist, career, personality and extraordinary musicianship.