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A Foreign Affair

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Album Review

Over 35 years into one of contemporary jazz fusion's most extraordinary evolving musical journeys, Spyro Gyra entered the 2010s where they began — on their own indie label, Amherst Records, on which they released their self-titled debut in 1978. Driven by the melodic, jazzy, and increasingly global-minded vision of saxophonist and founder Jay Beckenstein, Spyro Gyra have undergone various personnel changes throughout the years while becoming serial world travelers. The concept of A Foreign Affair began with Beckenstein asking his crew — Tom Schuman, Julio Fernandez, Scott Ambush, and Bonny B. — to come up with impressions of these adventures. The results are dynamic, exotic, high-spirited, loaded with invention and improvisation, and even slightly spiritual in spots (the moody African-flavored "Khuda," featuring the dreamy, soaring vocals of young Indian singer Arijit Singh). The ports of call on the group's stylistic itinerary develop distinctive personalities as they evolve. They start with a relaxed and silky, sax-driven reggae sway on Beckenstein's "Caribe," then start dancing with Schuman's synth pans in fiery sync with the saxman's punchy lines on Bonny B.'s festive "Sweet Ole Thang." The bubbling, super-percussive "Falling Walls" by Fernandez is harder to place geographically but is reflective of the trademark adventurous Spyro Gyra sound of the 2000s. Schuman's mystical "Shinjuku" touches on the whimsical side of Spyro Gyra's numerous trips to Japan, where they have long enjoyed great popularity. There's also a graceful, lighthearted touch of Rio ("Samba for Two"), a balmy bossa romance ("Canção de Ninar"), and a return to the Caribbean via "Antigua." Ambush's expansive closer, "Dancing on Table Mountain," allows the bandmembers to stretch and show the depth of their jazzy possibilities. Between all the frequent flyer miles, two of the most interesting tracks are the beautiful, poignant vocal tracks by Keb' Mo' (the melancholy "Last Call") and Fernandez (the easy-rolling Latin-tinged cultural message song "Chileno Boys"). Over 30 recordings in, Spyro Gyra still had something fresh to say while fearlessly entering their fifth decade of recording.


Formed: 1974 in Buffalo, NY

Genre: Jazz

Years Active: '70s, '80s, '90s, '00s

Founded in 1974 by saxophonist Jay Beckenstein, Spyro Gyra have consistently been one of the commercially successfully pop-jazz groups of the past 30 years. The band became a full-time venture in 1976 and has been touring ever since. Critics love to attack this band's music, which combines R&B and elements of pop and Caribbean music with jazz, but its live performances are often stimulating -- unlike many of its records, which emphasize the danceable melodies. The roots of Spyro Gyra lay in Buffalo,...
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A Foreign Affair, Spyro Gyra
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