Saturday, April 10, 2021

Infectious Groove: The Steve Band at Blue Note Tokyo

Steve Gadd Band at Blue Note Tokyo Dec 2019 BFM Jazz 621 834 676 2

There is no escaping the infectious shuffle that the now seventy-six-year young drummer Steve Gadd offers on the grooving opener “Where’s Earth” from his latest album Steve Gadd Band Live at Blue Note Toyko. What better groove masters can the legendary trap artisan employ to make some enjoyable music on a spectacular evening in Japan in Dec of 2019? The album is impeccably recorded for posterity by Junto Fukuhara of Blue Note Toyko and mixed effectively by Steve and his son Giancarlo.

The album features veteran bassist Jimmy Johnson, trumpet stylist Walt Fowler, and the multi-keyboard artist Kevin Hays joined with drummer Gadd. Add the intrepid David Spinoza, who more than ably fills the guitar slinger-seat usually occupied by the impressive Michael Landau who couldn't make this trip and you have this band. These guys are just loving the vibe, feeding off the audience’s respectful attention and reverential applause. In turn, these guys offer an impressive display of confidence, simpatico, skill, and poise. The group finds a line, skillfully plowed by a Gadd-created furrow. They plant seeds, germs of ideas, with the inherent DNA of one part creative improvisation, one part irresistible biorhythm.

Despite being the drummer’s gig, Gadd rarely showboats. On Spinozza’s sweet composition, “Doesn’t She Know By Now,” the groove is like poetry, a sustained slide between Johnson’s walking bass and Gadd’s cadenced traps, cowbell, and toms. The song features some searching flugelhorn work by Fowler and aerial-sounding Rhodes work by Hays, but it is Spinozza’s soulful guitar that seals the deal on this one. The man wears this song like a favorite, well-worn shirt. He has an inherent comfortable ability to find such soulful lines that just sweep you into his musical vortex. Here his guitar work floats over the fretboard with such unfettered loose style and impeccable taste.  

Spinozza’s studio work has been an integral part of many of the era’s most memorable songs. His guitar can be heard on albums released by Paul Simon, Paul McCartney, Billy Joel, John Lennon, and James Taylor to name just a few. His short but potent solo on Dr. John’s 1973 hit “Right Place Wrong Time” is like a guidepost to notable funky guitar solos of the past nearly fifty years. It’s a pleasure to hear Spinozza’s distinctive fretwork add a special voice added to this great band’s core.

“Timpanogos” is a Fowler Latin/Caribbean-inspired composition with Johnson’s buoyant bass and Gadd’s percolating beat. Fowler’s trumpet solo is gorgeous and Spinozza’s guitar lines are precise and emotive. Kevin Hays offers a beautiful keyboard solo that just floats like a billowy cloud over a tranquil aquamarine bay. Pour yourself one of those cool umbrella drinks and sit back and enjoy.

There is always room for the blues on a set like this, especially with such responsive artists. “Hidden Drive” features Hays on some inspired honkytonk piano and Johnson’s fat bass lines anchor the strut on top of Gadd’s snare and hi-hat-driven timekeeping. Fowler’s muted trumpet adds a soulful inflection and Spinozza’s guitar is a master class on his expressive authority of this genre.

The surprising voice of Kevin Hays is the feature on his soulful “Walk with Me.” This is a get-down type song and Fowler’s clarion trumpet works is in lead here. Gadd’s beat is particularly out front on this, with his definitive ability to create a commanding groove driven by his imagination, utilizing his kit to all its possibilities.

On Jimmy Johnson’s “One Point Five,” the group interacts more in synchronous sections. Gadd offers a roiling drum solo that starts at the 3:12 min mark and just brims over with intention and inventiveness. Gadd's improvisation is spurred on by his bandmates accenting the breaks in the music’s paced breaks and leaving no doubt who is commander of this group.

One of Gadd’s favorite songs, "Way Back Home," is a composition by Wilton Felder, the saxophonist/bassist of the Crusaders. Gadd first played this song back in the ’70s with the supergroup Stuff. The drummer here utilizes brushes. He and Giancarlo purposefully highlight them and Johnson’s bass in the mix to get the feel the drummer is looking to feature. There is some intuitive conversational action between Spinozza’s twangy guitar and Johnson’s bass that is a treat and Hays adds some nice honkytonk piano work toward the coda.

Guitarist Michael Landau’s influence is never far from this band’s psyche and here they play his “Rat Race” to great effect. Johnson’s bass lines are so funky, and Gadd’s shuffle habit-forming, you can’t get enough. Hays is back on Rhodes and it is so rewarding to see how well-suited this talented pianist's playing enhances this group's sound. Fowler’s accents, here on mute, are always timely placed and expressive. Spinozza never fails to offer his own stamp here. He releases some exciting guitar work that just elevates the music to a new level of urgency. Put on some earphones and absorb this. Guitar creativity to be savored.

The set ends with Bob Dylan’s bluesy “Watching the River Flow” sung well and with real emotion by Hays. The group just goes with the shuffle here and it is a happy ending to a fabulous night of music. 

There is no denying that listening to these guys play such uplifting and grooving music on Steve Gadd Band At Blue Note Tokyo is a delight not to be missed and rest assured the trap master  Steve Gadd has not lost a scintilla of his groove. 

Saturday, April 3, 2021

Experience the fusion and groove of SHIJIN - Theory Of Everything

Shijin : Theory of Everything : Alter-Nativ Records

If you have a passion for interesting and challenging music that has elements of complexity that doesn’t totally lose you in its own labyrinthian constructions, then you owe yourself a listen to Shijin’s second and latest album Theory of Everything This international group has substantially the same personnel as the original group featured on their debut album SHIJIN released back in 2018. The saxophonist, originally Jacques Schwartz-Bart who was raised in Guadalupe, has been replaced on this album with the fortuitous addition, multi-horn artist Stephane Guillaume from France.

The group is captained by the electric bassist and composer Laurent David whose probing basslines set the bearing and heartbeat of the group. All the members are listed as co-composers of all the songs on this album. As record producer David says in his press release “All interactions, harmonies, rhythms, and melodies generated arise from the energy of the void!”  

Take the leadoff song “Mystery of the White Dwarf” which is introduced by the ostinato bass of David, the pulsing percussion of Belgium drummer Stephane Galland and supported brilliantly by the lead duo of Brazilian Malcolm Braff’s acoustic and electric piano work and the fluid saxophone musings of Guillaume. These guys meld their sounds together in sympathetic and adventurous ways. This is explorative fusion with an inherent groove.

“Unexpected Discovery” opens with a repeating bass line that creates the setting for a more ruminative adventure, an aural mind journey. David’s bass lines ring out like a traveler’s beacon in the darkness. Guillaume flawlessly doubles on tenor and flute. His flute lines dance like a nymph in a gauzy dream. Gallard’s cymbals shimmer and he offers a brief but effective syncopated drum accompaniment.

No matter how this group mixes up the melody they always anchor the music in some rhythmic continuum. On “Golden Age” Braff’s electronic keyboard adds an atmospheric element and David’s bass solo is a digging excursion over’s Gallard’s drum work.

The powerfully driven “Implosion” is a testament to how well these skilled musicians can come together as a potent vehicle for expression. Braff’s piano work explores with passion and creativity. Guillaume’s tenor wails and the rhythm section of David and Gallard is pure syncopated propulsion.

The group returns to a more reflective approach to “Time Travel” one of the more melodic compositions of the album and one of my favorites.  Braff’s piano solo work is given time to explore, and he delivers with a flourishing touch that sometimes morphs into a more percussive approach. The pace quickens and Guillaume offers a serpentine soprano solo that creates tonal variety and excitement here. He also adds the lower sonorous tones of a bass clarinet that he overdubs. This group knows how to skillfully use the aural tone palette available to them from these talented musicians and they can certainly build on a groove.

“Separating Circle” finds Gallard playing a duet with himself displaying a rhythmic sophistication that is a joy.  

“You Are Here” features the Rhodes and CP-70 keyboard work of Braff and Guillaume returning to an expanded work on tenor, skillfully overdubbing flute in parts.  

The final composition of the album is titled “Curved Wrinkles” and starts off with some tinkling piano notes, a funky bassline and a strong backbeat. Guillaume is on tenor and he and Braff trade lines as the rhythm section keep the pace.

If you enjoy pulsing, probing, and excellently played fusion based music then Shijin’s Theory of Everything is sure to please.