As on many of their previous releases, Spyro Gyra’s 23rd album both capitalizes on their longevity (the five members have been together nine years now, as opposed to the frequently-changing rosters of the past), and breaks new ground – both stylistically and by debuting on the talent-rich Heads Up label.
The disc opens with three up-tempo tunes right out of the familiar Spyro Gyra mold. Then new ground is broken with Scott Ambush’s semi-dark composition “The River Between” - it’s like an evocative trip up the Amazon. Ambush, on bass, shares the melody duties with Beckenstein. Next up is a funkier, back-beat heavy homage, “Groovin’ For Grover,” although Beckenstein wisely maintains his own voice on soprano rather than trying to evoke Washington’s signature style. Exotic Cuban-flavored rhythms and backgound horns propel “Florida Straits,” while the album reaches it’s funkiest apex on “Feelin’ Fine Pt. 2,” with sassy, crisp bass and drums, choked guitar, and staccato sax lines. Next, the programs gets earthy with the slow, soulful groove of “East River Blue.” Beckenstein and keyboard whiz Tom Schuman (who has composed some of the band’s most in-depth works) collaborate on a sweet, gentle ballad called “Your Touch.” Composer/keyboardist Jeremy Wall, an original band member who has contributed at least one composition to every release, adds the cheerful, horn-driven “Lucky Bounce” this time around. Guest trombonist Andrew Lippman adds welcome variety to the sonic landscape with a solo on the closer "Planet J," ably supported by the No Sweat Horns (frequent guests on Spyro Gyra’s studio recordings).
Spyro Gyra is now 23-for-23. Pretty hard to beat that! While this CD may not, some day, stand out as one of the high points of their lengthy discography, it’s an excellent addition to their growing legacy. (Heads Up HUCD 3061)