Jazz CD Reviews

Spyro Gyra – Down the Wire – Heads Up

The best-selling jazz/pop/fusion/smooth jazz quintet of 30 years keeps on keeping on.

Published on April 27, 2009

Spyro Gyra – Down the Wire – Heads Up

Spyro Gyra – Down the Wire – Heads Up HUCD 3154, 1 hour ****:

(Jay Beckenstein, saxes; Tom Schuman, keyboards; Scott Ambush, bass; Julio Fernandez, guitars; Bonny B, drums/percussion/vocals; and guests)

This seems to be the seventh Heads Up disc from the busy boys who originated in Buffalo, New York, and in fact recorded this album there. It’s too bad we’re probably not going to hear it in SACD surround as with five of their previous albums, but that seems to be the current trend.  Beckenstein and Schuman tend to remain the same from disc to disc, with occasional changes in the rest of the band. This time a number of guest players were brought into the mix: Marc Quinones and Gerardo Velez, percussionists; Don Harris, trumpet; Bill Harris, tenor sax and flute; and Ozzie Melendez, trombone.

Considering one of the most listenable of the smooth jazz bands, Spyro Gyra has a snap, originality and fresh sound that makes them appeal to listeners who would never listen to, say, a smooth jazz radio station.  They also bring in rock, R&B and funk – sometimes a bit too much of the latter for my own ears, as in the opening track on Down the Wire. Tom’s Not for Nothin’ is the epitome of the Spyro Gyra sound and appeal.  It comfortably assimilates the pop and rock elements into an infectious beat and fun tune. Guitarist Julio Fernandez – who played with the band back in the 80s – gets to open the seven-minute ballad A Flower for Annie Jeanette, and pianist Tom Schuman has a nice solo in the middle.  La Zona Rosa has all five guest sidemen joining the quintet at once for a big-sounding Afro-Cuban-flavored number that boasts more variety than the typical Latin standard. Of course Beckenstein provides some of his fine solos. And Bonny B does his funky vocal on the closing Make It Mine.

TrackList:  Down the Wire, Unspoken, Not for Nothin’, Island Pond, The Tippin’ Point, Ice Mountain, A Flower for Annie Jeanette, La Zona Rosa, What It Is, A Distant Memory, Make It Mine.

 – John Henry

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