The entity known as Spyro Gyra is a marathon runner in the arena of contemporary jazz. For more than three decades, moving across a musical landscape marked by increasingly challenging terrain and accelerated change, they have maintained the well-deserved reputation as a viable and highly versatile creative force. Since their earliest recordings in the mid 1970s, they have maintained a fresh approach to their craft by borrowing from a range of sources and distilling them into an unmistakable signature sound.
This innovative and eclectic sensibility has earned the band nine GRAMMY nominations overall, and has fueled the sale of 11 million records – Including one platinum and two gold records. In the midst of the achievements and accolades, Spyro Gyra keeps moving, having logged over 5,000 high-energy performances in their prestigious and prolific career.
The band passes another milestone on this long-distance run with the elease of Good To Go-Go (HUCD 3127 and on SACD in 5.1 Surround Sound HUSA 9127) on Heads Up International. The album is the band’s twenty-sixth of their overall career and their fourth release on Heads Up, following on the heels of the GRAMMY nominated 2006 release Wrapped in a Dream (Best Pop Instrumental Album).
A new face in the Spyro Gyra lineup belongs to drummer/percussionist Bonny B (short for Bonaparte). The Trinidad native had been touring with the band for several months before they went into the studio to record Good To Go-Go, and the energy he brought to the party served as the catalyst for some fine tuning in the group’s overall philosophy. Bonny B joins saxophonist and Spyro Gyra founder Jay Beckenstein, keyboardist Tom Schuman, guitarist Julio Fernandez and bassist Scott Ambush in the five-man lineup.
“The fact that we had this new drummer with this great spirit about him prompted us to go in the direction of a more live-sounding, less produced record,” says Beckenstein. “The band was just sounding so killer on the road that I wanted to capture some of that energy and reproduce it on the record. When you bring somebody new on board who’s bringing some unexpected things with him, it shakes you up a little bit and puts you in new territory. It’s been a process of discovery for all of us, and it’s been a lot of fun.”
That lighthearted sensibility makes its way into the album’s 12 tracks. The bouncy midtempo, “Simple Pleasures,” is tailor made for driving with the windows down on a warm summer evening, while the syncopated backbeat and subtle tonal shifts of uptempo “Get Busy” make for a challenging but fun melodic exercise.
Other highlights further into the set include “Funkyard Dog,” a fast-paced romp wherein Bonny B sets up a tight groove yet allows plenty of room for Beckenstein and the rest of his bandmates to shine, and “Island Time,” an energetic calypso track guaranteed to transport even the most urban-rooted listener directly to the islands. “A Winter Tale,” although upbeat in tempo and overall tone, is a bit more introspective, with generous contributions from Schuman and Fernandez.
The title track, penned by Ambush, takes the album into the homestretch with a highly percussive drum/bass groove that sets up a large but well-grounded space for plenty of sax, keys and more. The closer, “Newroses” ratchets up the tempo and energy even higher, with all parties trading licks from more than six minutes all told. It’s the ideal closing statement by a band that refuses to be anything but forward-thinking and forward-pushing.
“We’ve always had this belief that the thing we’re doing in any given moment is the best we’ve ever done,” says Beckenstein. “And we always want to maintain that philosophy, because that’s what drives us forward. We haven’t succumbed to the mentality of ‘Let’s just play the hits and collect the check.’ We never saw ourselves as a pop band. We’ve always seen ourselves as a forward thinking creative outfit. After 30 years, it still feels very interesting and exciting.”
Regardless of what may lie ahead, Spyro Gyra is Good To Go-Go.