In some ways, we move through life as though it were a series of images. Some are beautiful, some are painful, all are a reflection and an extension of who and what we are. The best that we can hope for is that we’ll make the best of it before the final credits roll.
But there’s more to this movie than just the scenery. There’s a soundtrack as well – the music that underscores the dance, the celebration, the love, the loss, the growing up and the coming of age. The music leaves impressions that are just as powerful as the pictures, sometimes more so.
Spyro Gyra has been experimenting with that soundtrack for a quarter century, pushing the boundaries and definitions of jazz and pop since the 1970s, and turning the music into a vital component of the day-to-day experience for listeners worldwide. For hardcore devotees and casual fans alike, this progressive musical collective has crafted the soundtrack to the often cinematic experience better known as life.
The latest chapter in this journey of musical storytelling is Original Cinema ( HUCD 3074). The album’s 13 tracks represent a back-to-basics approach to the music after years of battling the preconceptions and misperceptions of the jazz cognoscenti – many of whom insisted that founder Jay Beckenstein and his quintet were somehow not privy to the jazz legacy. Original Cinema will also be released as an SACD in 5.1 Surround Sound ( HUSA 9074).
“On the last few records I think we were trying to appeal to an audience that had been attracted to us through the smooth jazz thing,” says Beckenstein. “That’s when I decided the next one had to be different. We owed it to ourselves and our fans.”
The result is a highly energized, atmospheric bag of musical styles and nuances – a little jazz in one corner, a little funk in another, a little R&B in yet another. Like a good movie, the album is peopled with fascinating characters moving through a compelling story fueled by a dynamic energy.
From the first riffs of the midtempo opener, “Bump It Up,” Beckenstein and company – keyboardist Tom Schuman, guitarist Julio Fernandez, bassist Scott Ambush and drummer Joel Rosenblatt – set up a funky groove wherein the saxophone takes the lead but gives plenty of floor space to guitar, keys and the rhythm section. “Extrovertical” jacks up the tempo and intensity with an opening sax-and-percussion duel that develops into a full-scale groove for all parties. Think of this as the action scene in this cinematic experience. “Dream Sequence” is just what the title suggests – quiet and sensual, but with a subtle energy all its own.
The cinematic references don’t end there. “Film Noir” is murky and mysterious, with the suggestion of intrigue and danger just beyond the next riff. “Close Up” features an easygoing backbeat and provides a thorough glimpse of some tight interplay between Beckenstein and guitarist Julio Fernandez. Beckenstein accompanies himself on piano two tracks later in the wistful and nostalgic “Flash Back,” a piano-heavy track that’s guaranteed to bring back a personal memory that’s both hazy and indelible at the same time. “Big Dance Number,” with its sturdy backbeat and sneaky sax lines, is the groove-fest that any song with this title should be.
Beckenstein says he “didn’t run away from dark-sounding melodies or moody chords” in the making of Original Cinema. “Some of the stuff I came up with was a little dissonant and disjointed, but that gives these tunes more depth than had I just done the safe and melodic thing.”
Sometimes that occasional dissonance and tension – the result of powerful forces coming together – are what it’s all about in the cinema that runs through the mind and through our lives. When you close your eyes and the images start to appear, pay attention to the music underneath. It tells a story all its own.