Blicher Hemmer Gadd bring the Hammond boogie to Pizza Express Jazz Club

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On the band's website, beside big ups from Gilles Peterson, Modern Drummer and the BBC, there's a quote from Steve Gadd that says it was his love of organ groups, and the appreciation Danish saxophonist Michael Blicher has for New Orleans drumming, that brought them together. Add to the mix the palpable funk and gospel influence of Hammond player Dan Hemmer and all of these flavours, and more, made for a mesmerising show from an extraordinary trio.

The gig being something like the 10th into their first major tour, tonight's packed house got to hear a group still in their infancy, a raw state, in an intimate venue playing tunes loaded with energy, passion and creativity. To welcoming whistles and cheers, they began with 'Well I'm Not Really Much of a Dancer'; its staggered funk-feel driven by a straight kit pattern and some sludgy organ to cushion Blicher's sinuous melody on alto. As the final few bars faded to a full stop church-like Hammond whistled over the applause, announcing a bluesier 'Treme', to which Blicher added a sweet, lyrical line and Gadd fluttery brushes. The tune remained breezy until Hemmer slid in a solid walking line, clearing the way for a heavy shuffle groove from Gadd and a drum solo hot enough to char the front row.

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Following a reading of Little Walter's 'My Babe', the tune 'Three Grains of Salt' was dedicated to the drummer, who suitably showered its disco vibe with tight hi-hat 16ths, sizzling to a ‘sock-style’ pattern under a funky Maceo-style break from Blicher. To the side of the trilby-topped saxist, happy to soar and splurge over the swingers, Hemmer injected warm tones and emotive phrasing into the gospel-feel of 'They Had No Roses', before R&B rocker 'She Curves, She Curves' swept him up back to a high register, loud and percussive against Blicher's piercing flute and a groove that evoked Ray Charles' 'What I Say'.  

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Things cooled off with the ballad 'On the Porch', which opened with the sound of a Leslie speaker purring between Hemmer's carefully planted chords and a soft soprano sax line sailing to the back of the room like a paper plane. Gadd complimented this flight with a gentle rumba rhythm on snare, a feel that became atmospheric and trance-like as he exploited every detail of this same pattern throughout, embellishing only with subtle kick and snare accents or the tap of ride cymbal during solos. To the delight of every drummer in the house (of which there were many) Gadd would later let rip, delivering some of his trademark military chops and a cowbell-clattering Mozambique break to bring Lester Young's 'In a Little Spanish Town' to a climax. More stunning through was a slow skank reggae groove he laid out for 'Babylon', Blicher's touching tribute to Bob Marley, wet with a seductive sax motif and Hemmer's vengeful Hammond.

The audience left uplifted thanks to the eventual set-closer, a second line-style 'New Orleans' and a crisp, fat and funky 'Korean BBQ'. The band was so tight and their set just right, but then so was Gadd, with another quote on the website about this band “becoming something really special and unique”. Many would argue they already are.

– Mark Youll

      Photos by Roger Thomas