Talk about veracity and staying power. The powerhouse group, Spyro Gyra, has seen 30 years come and go without missing a beat (pardon the pun) in providing stirring, superior contemporary jazz. With driving rhythms, witty nuances, meticulous hooks, chords, and melodies, Down the Wire, the latest triumph for the group—to be released in late April—will again stake a firm claim on the fertile turf of this genre.
Jay Beckenstein, as much as icon as any in the business, is and has always been quite the entertainer, live and in the studio. Growing up listening to Louis Armstrong, Sonny Rollins, Charlie Parker, and Dizzy Gillespie has obviously paid dividends for this prolific leader and sax man for the group. Add to that the longtime devoted and extraordinary skills of keyboardist Tom Schuman and guitarist Julio Fernandez, as well as the dazzling style and presence of Trinidadian drummer Bonny B and the mightily supportive bottom provided by bassist Scott Ambush, and you don’t have to wonder how the group stays at the top of its game--release after release.
Down the Wire delivers different touches and textures throughout. There’s the driving and funky title track featuring monstrous thumps and runs by Ambush and Bonny B laying down that irresistible backbeat. That’s followed by the beautifully mellow second track, “Unspoken,” featuring guest alumnus/percussionist Geraldo Velez (who reappears on track 7, “Flower for Annie Jeanette,” by the way). Track 5, “The Tippin’ Point” highlights some cool, melodic straight-ahead swing jazz interplay between Beckenstein and Schuman. Amazing stuff. The interesting time signature and brilliant runs on “Ice Mountain” at track 6 get a major thumbs-up from this reviewer, and some Latin fire gets stoked up on “La Zona Rosa,” which is a hot, rhythmic piece featuring Marc Quinones--another alumnus and current member of the legendary southern rock group, the Allman Brothers Band. Ah, then there’s the smokin’ finale, “Make It Mine,” where we’re treated to not only Bonny B’s muscular drumming style but his spirited and clever vocal prowess and a heavy dose of funk bass, Scott Ambush-style. What a way to exit!
There you have it. Spyro Gyra as…Spyro Gyra…again. Veracity, creativity, and consistency in excellence continue to dominant this group’s mantra. Don’t worry; the end of April isn’t that far away…Posted by Ronald Jackson at March 6, 2009 2:11 PM