Hold onto your hats, friends: the hotly anticipated first-ever live album in the 20-year history of Spyro Gyra, contemporary jazz legends, is here! Road Scholars is a sampling of the band's 1997 tour celebrating their twentieth release (last year's 20/20 ) in as many years. Has it really been this long? Pop Road Scholars into your changer and you'll feel like you're right back in the Carter Years, ready to boogie. Of course, these folks' grooves are state-of-the-art, but smoothville has a history and tradition all its own now, and Road Scholars is as good a document of it as any. Messrs. Gyra may be the fountainhead of Mr. G and all his sundry imitators. Here are the masters themselves at work.
Spyro Gyra is (are?) Jay Beckenstein on reeds, Tom Schuman on trademark gurgly keyboards, Julio Fernandez with some Dan-ish (that is, as in "Steely") guitar, Joel Rosenblatt on drums and percussion, and Scott Ambush on bass. Twenty years is a lot of electricity under the bridge, but these guys are none the worse for wear. The crowd is happy, even managing a clap-along during "Breakfast at Igor's." And you can put your minds at ease, Spyro tyros: "Morning Dance" is here in all its glory, as tuneful and catchy as ever. This one deserved to be the hit it was, with Beckenstein and Schuman especially shining.
Otherwise we have the shimmery "Shaker Song," with Schuman's ivories at their most ticklish. "Heart of the Night," "Shanghai Gumbo," "Ariana" and "Daddy's Got a New Girl Now" are perfect specimens of the cheerful, glossy up-tempo funk that Herr Gyra has patented. "Innocent Soul" kicks off with Beckenstein and Schuman finding themselves in Deep Space Nine and soon deciding that it's a pretty darn nice place. "South American Sojourn" has a deft Latin flavor, earning its title smartly. "De la Luz" includes some sweet acoustic licks from Fernandez; "Best Friends," the only studio cut, has some interesting popcorn thingy.
Fans of Señor Gyra and his smooth blend will love Road Scholars.