I can imagine a hardcore Steely Dan fan, one who probably does agree with that popular YouTube video that makes the case for Steve Gadd’s drum solo in “Aja” being the all-time greatest, listening to the Steve Gadd Band (website) and thinking just wait, he’s gonna get rolling here in a second. You’ll see.
You’ll laugh if you’re a fan of the Steve Gadd Band, and you consider yourself knowledgeable about the man behind the drum kit. On this new live album, At Blue Note Tokyo, he spends the first few songs developing the slow burn, the steady tension, and then he’ll deliver a quick solo, nothing as mind-blowing as The Aja Solo, and then he’ll keep it tight and let the rest of his crew step into the spotlight.
That’s when you notice that Steve Gadd is doing the Mick Fleetwood thing. (Or perhaps Mick Fleetwood was doing the Steve Gadd thing.) Do you know what I mean? For more than a decade, Playboy picked Mick Fleetwood as their favorite rock drummer in their annual music awards. This wasn’t Hef picking the winners, but genuine music critics and writers. This was back when I was young, back when I’d actually read a Playboy or two, and I liked Fleetwood Mac a lot but not for their awesome gonzo drummer. Frankly, I wasn’t aware that Mick was a hell of a drummer. It took me years to find out why Fleetwood was so special, and many of those same thoughts can now be said about Steve Gadd.
For instance, you can start by saying that Steve Gadd is a brilliant timekeeper, something they also say about Mick Fleetwood. Okay, but that’s not telling you anything. The whole drummer’s drummer concept applies here, but I’ll explain why Steve Gadd is so good here, so good as a member of the Steve Gadd Band, which turns out to be a hell of a quintet consisting of bassist Jimmy Johnson, trumpeter Walt Fowler, keyboard player Kevin Hays and guitarist Davis Spinozza. They play a style of jazz that uses the blues to get a decent view of rock and roll, but they play measured and laid-back and, most of all, even.
That’s because Steve Gadd is even. He is a perfect timekeeper. He is a master on the brushes. But every once in a while he gets a chance to solo, and that’s when you get a little closer to this man and you realize what he has to say. When he does take flight, it’s not full speed like on “Aja,” and it’s not heavy on technique. It’s all about the contact, about every strike delivered by the drumsticks and how every sound is coaxed onto the stage and encouraged to bloom and expand.
If you can hear all that, you’ll love this album. A drummer’s drummer indeed! But the rest of the album is also just that smooth, just precise and heartfelt jazz, delivered with just a sliver of appreciation for rock and roll folklore, somewhere far past “Aja” and “50 Ways to Leave Your Lover.”