Review: Gadd brought a celebratory tone to James, Sanborn concert
05:00 AM, Jun 27, 2013
Seeing pianist Bob James and saxophonist David Sanborn together after decades apart might have felt like double vision to fans who have been awaiting this moment since their 1986 platinum release. But their performance Thursday night at the Xerox Rochester International Jazz Festival in Kodak Hall was as much about Steve Gadd’s celebratory return to his hometown as it was their overdue collaboration.
As soon as Gadd stepped on stage, thunderous applause and a standing ovation greeted him. The audience in the sold-out theater was absorbed with every featured moment for the drummer, who is one of the most respected session players in the business. He’s played with the most famous artists over the last 30-plus years. Gadd was as solid as ever, providing the foundation for the band as a whole and standing out with his brushwork, phrasing and gun-shot drumming in solos.
As for James and Sanborn, they reunited not only to each other’s tell-tale styles, but also to a jazz world that’s mostly pushed their once-innovative smooth style off the radar. Their latest project, Quartette Humaine, released in May, is their attempt to find a place within a contemporary music scene. The result is an album filled with straight-ahead jazz, permeated by the ’70s and ’80s smooth style branded to their instrumental voices. I’m not sure why they were so concerned with giving themselves a facelift; the audience on Thursday was so enchanted by nostalgia that they wouldn’t have minded an entire show in the style these artists do best.
They are the best at what they do. Both James and Sanborn are multi Grammy Award-winning musicians, and they haven’t lost a thing in the intervening years. Gadd and bassist Scott Colley, an authentic jazzer, were seemingly at the top of their games, too.
Perhaps to bolster the project, James and Sandborn dedicated their recent work to the late pianist Dave Brubeck, who died as they were working on the album. There’s nothing really Brubeck-like about the music; they’ve decided that the mere inspiration of such an artist was enough to ride on.
The one exception was the tune “Follow Me,” with a syncopated bass line that certainly channeled the great Take Five pianist. The tune “My Old Flame” also had enough swing to incorporate a George Gershwin lick; the great Brubeck was always attuned to classical composers. But what what really seemed to garner the most accolades was Sanborn’s wailing high notes and razor-like vibrato, the archetype of the smooth jazz saxophone domain.
The night ended with “Comin’ Home” and a flurry of Gadd’s drumming, a triumph for our hometown hero.