Drumming icon Steve Gadd has always sounded happiest when laying down golden tracks in the studio and serving as a sideman to the stars, only choosing to assume the mantle of leadership on rare occasions with session-men assemblages like the Gadd Gang or, more recently, the Gaddabouts (fronted by vocalist Edie Brickell). But in forming this group with his musical brethren from James Taylor’s touring outfit, Gadd has finally settled comfortably into the driver’s seat.
This eponymous album is the fourth release from this band in six years. There’s one notable change in the personnel department with this latest offering—pianist Kevin Hays fills the role formerly occupied by Larry Goldings—but that substitution does little to alter the tactics and tone of the group, which also includes guitarist Michael Landau, trumpeter/flugelhornist Walt Fowler and bassist Jimmy Johnson. As with its previous efforts, the Steve Gadd Band emphasizes feel, texture, grooves and holistic presentation over athletic feats.
Save for a take on the late Allan Holds-worth’s “Temporary Fault,” Gadd and company focus on originals throughout. These men operate with a fairly prudent posture—tempos are slow to modest, and solos are somewhat reserved in nature—but there’s enough stylistic variety to maintain interest. In shifting moods and vibes, this crew demonstrates the virtues of holding together and showing restraint—from a chipper “I Know, But Tell Me Again” to the noirish nightscape of “Auckland by Numbers,” from a bluesy “Skulk” to the tender “Norma’s Girl,” and from a soulful “Spring Song” (with vocals by Hays) to the simmering “Timpanogos.” If you’re looking for Gadd to cut loose and set off fireworks, look somewhere else. But if you want a reminder to never underestimate the power of the pocket in its various states, here it is.