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The Deep End

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Album Review

With their third label release, the longtime contemporary jazz powerhouse ensemble led by fluid and funky sax legend Jay Beckenstein celebrates 30 years of a consistent mix of making instrumental pop hits and pushing the musical envelopes into fusion territory. The title promises a plunge into something deep, or at least a little stretching, and the band — showcasing new drummer Ludwig Alfonso on a few tunes — more than delivers. But not right away. They open smooth and light-funky with the playful, sax-driven "Summer Fling," which is breezy and fun but only digs deep with Tom Schuman's heavily retro key solo. "Eastlake Shuffle" balances Beckenstein's adventurous sax punch with a heavy blues mood driven by Schuman and the rockin' guitar harmonies and solo of Julio Fernandez. Things don't really heat up until the exotic fusion jam "Monsoon," a live show crowd-pleaser that builds from an Indian-flavored meditation (complete with distant chance and bird calls) into a moody sitar-laced melody before exploding into a powerful, blues-drenched extravaganza featuring some of Beckenstein's most powerful lines blended with Fernandez's brimming, ready-to-explode guitar on the hook. From this point, the band alternates its light moods ("As You Wish") with more aggressive and sometimes blistering rock-flavored explorations ("Joburg Jam," one of the four tracks featuring the shimmering vibes action of Dave Samuels, "Wiggle Room"). Most veteran bands would gasp for survival in the culture of stricter radio formats by playing it ever safer and trendy, but Spyro Gyra has never been most bands. Each release has a few sweet pleasantries (and even these feature magnificent musicianship) but a great deal more energy and blowing than today's average smooth jazz listener is used to. It's worth the plunge.

Biography

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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The Deep End, Spyro Gyra
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