Jazz and blues

Hearing Steve Gadd Band album conjures memories of Rick's Cafe, Hong Kong

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 02 May, 2015, 10:51pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 02 May, 2015, 10:51pm

Readers who were in Hong Kong in the 1980s would probably remember Rick's Cafe, a loosely Casablanca-themed cellar bar in Tsim Sha Tsui. For several years it was the only Hong Kong watering hole that hosted live modern jazz - mostly performed by bands led by saxophonist Ric Halstead, who went on to become the musical director of The Jazz Club.

Visiting jazz musicians would sometimes sit in with the house band, one incarnation of which featured guitarist Eugene Pao, and was called One Finger Snap after a track on Herbie Hancock's 1964 album Empyrean Isles. Hancock was one of those guests and Chick Corea was another.

I was reminded of Rick's last week while listening to 70 Strong by the Steve Gadd Band, because I had lunch at Rick's with two of its members on separate occasions.

Rick's was involved in promoting a concert by this band's predecessor, The Gadd Gang, and Gadd, along with pianist Richard Tee, guitarist Cornell Dupree, baritone saxophonist Ronnie Cuber and bassist Eddie Gomez, came to the bar to meet the press.

The other occasion involved the Steve Gadd Band's current bassist, Jimmy Johnson, who was then half of a highly rated rhythm section with the wonderfully named drummer Chad Wackerman. They both played Rick's with guitarist Allan Holdsworth, and can be heard on many of his albums from the mid-1980s onwards.

I remember asking Johnson about an album he had recorded with Albert Lee, who Martin Taylor calls "the Charlie Parker of country guitar", and saying it sounded meticulously produced. He told me they had gone into the studio for a day with a case of beer and no particular idea of what they were going to do and just bashed it out.

The Gadd Gang members I remember mostly talking to were Tee and Dupree, both of whom have since left us. The other three musicians didn't say much, and probably preferred to let their instruments do the talking.

Gadd is perhaps most famous for his distinctive drumming on Paul Simon's 50 Ways to Leave Your Lover, and on the title track of Steely Dan's Aja, for which he was asked to improvise in tandem with Wayne Shorter on tenor saxophone. He has featured on innumerable pop and rock sessions, but has played jazz from the beginning of his career and is very much at home in jazz funk and fusion contexts.

Gadd started out with Gap and Chuck Mangione, and played with Tee and Dupree in Stuff, and with Gomez in Steps Ahead. He can be heard on albums by George Benson, Grover Washington, Al di Meola and many more.

His major current gigs are drumming for Eric Clapton and James Taylor, and all the members of the Steve Gadd Band are also members of Taylor's touring group.

This album, a follow-up to 2013's Gadditude featuring the same musicians, was recorded to mark Gadd's 70th birthday, which fell on April 9. It consists mostly of original material, but there are three covers among the 11 tracks: Oh Yeah? by Jan Hammer and Fernando Saunders, Freedom Jazz Dance by Eddie Harris and De Volta Ao Samba by Chico Buarque.

Freedom Jazz Dance is a standard, but given an unusual spin with bluesy slide guitar.

It's a strong set, and unlike his regular boss Clapton, who also turned 70 this year, Gadd is not taking the birthday as a cue for semi-retirement. "It's always a pleasure to work and hang out with these guys," he says.

"All of these guys are incredible musicians and they can play anything … so this album has a lot of diversity. This band continue to evolve and I think that we've brought it up a notch from our first record. I love it and we hope you will, too."

Take Three

A trio of noteworthy jazz albums featuring Steve Gadd on drums.

  • In the Beginning (1974, CTI): a high point of flautist Hubert Laws' recording career with compositions as varied as Erik Satie's Gynmopédie No 1 and Sonny Rollins' Airegin.
  • Concierto (1975, CTI): a classic Jim Hall album featuring a jazz interpretation of Rodrigo's Concierto de Aranjuez. A superb band assembled for the session included Chet Baker on trumpet and Paul Desmond on alto saxophone.
  • Three Quartets (1981, Stretch Records): this album comprises three original compositions by Chick Corea including the two-part Quartet No 2, dedicated to Duke Ellington and John Coltrane. Corea and Gadd are joined by Michael Brecker on tenor saxophone and Eddie Gomez on double bass.