Spyro Gyra: 20/20
This is Spyro Gyra's twentieth album in twenty years. Prior to listening to this album, I decided to listen to all of their previous albums in sequence. This enjoyable experience really impressed upon me how consistently excellent this band has been throughout its life. Some personnel have changed (only saxophonist / leader Jay Beckenstein and keyboard whiz Tom Schuman have remained constant) but the character of the group has remained. The material has also grown, almost imperceptibly, from the relatively fluffy pop-jazz of Morning Dance and Catching the Sun into more adventurous, meaty jazz. And with each release, they always have something fresh to offer. Their albums have never sounded like retreads of previous material.
Despite all the publicity hype about this being their twentieth album in twenty years, they didn't really do anything unique or special to commemorate the occasion. They just kept on doing what they have done for twenty years to get where they are today, and that is serve up a program of infectious Latin-tinged (alright, sometimes overtly Latin) modern jazz goodies. Guest trumpeter Chris Botti is more impressive here than on his own recordings, and the 3-piece "No Sweat Horns" provide lots of punch and sizzle. Band alumni Dave Samuels (vibes) and Manolo Badrena (percussion) make nice contributions that make me wish they were still regular members of the band. But all these are just side trimmings; the excellent compositions, soloing, and band interplay of the five principal band members (in addition to Beckenstein and Schuman, there's guitarist Julio Fernandez, bassist Scott Ambush, and drummer Joel Rosenblatt) are what make this CD another successful chapter in the Spyro Gyra journey.