Spyro Gyra – The Rhinebeck Sessions

Nov. 5, 2013

When someone asks “Have you heard the latest Spyro Gyra release?,” and it’s one I haven’t yet heard, I immediately brace myself for some great contemporary jazz and fusion with some traditional jazz flavorings tossed in for good measure. That is exactly what you get with this latest gem from one of the longest performing iconic groups out here today. Plenty of professional polish, imagination, and great melodies and phrasings can be found in abundance on their latest, The Rhinebeck Sessions, the band’s 30th album and its first ever album written in the studio over the course of three days of improvised sessions in Rhinebeck, NY. Thirty quality albums in 40 years. Simply phenomenal.

Anyone who’s just slightly familiar with contemporary jazz knows at least one Spyro Gyra tune, maybe more. Frontman and saxophonist Jay Beckenstein has done a wonderful job of making sure that he and his devoted musical buddies of too many years to count bring it home with poise and vigor once again. Long-time SG members Tom Schuman (keys) and Julio Fernandez (guitars) can attest to the robust journey of the group Jay built. Bassist Scott Ambush, a member joining a bit later, has now been fully absorbed by the vibe and aura and is well “in the zone” with the group as clearly shown on this album. Newer SG drummer Lee Pearson is also a smooth fit, to say the least.

Often, we ask of the heavy hitters in jazz (and other genres, for that matter), where can you go from up? Well, Spyro Gyra clearly shows you with bright, classy tunes like the Latin-tinged/fusion-laced/signature Spyro Gyra- feeling lead track “Serious Delivery” featuring some mean runs by Beckenstein and Fernandez (someone can be heard accurately shouting at the end of this one “Now, that’s how you play!”), track three’s bass-thumping “Not Unlike That” showcasing Ambush’s monstrous bass skills in conjunction with the stellar playing by his amigos, and the driving “Sorbet” with all members engaged on their own plain. Then, there’s the straight-ahead magic displayed on “I Know What You Mingus.” No question at all as to whom that title and suave piece refer. All-around great stuff indeed, and much more follows these tracks.

With all original tracks from the group, this album never misses its mark, providing some unforgettable instrumental moments and entertaining time signatures.

Simply put, this is Spyro Gyra as we have always known them – forward looking, approaching quality with a swagger, and always sporting that top-tier eloquence. – Ronald Jackson