There’s some music that really gets inside of your head and makes you think. Whether it’s solid songwriting, great arrangements or offbeat twists and turns, there’s a lot of fun in dissecting the musicianship of the caliber that you’ll find on Spyro Gyra’s new album, The Deep End (HUCD 3085). But that’s not the point, it’s just a happy side effect. What saxophonist Jay Beckenstein really had in mind when making this album was diving into the deep end of the emotional spectrum. “I love music that makes me think,” he explains, “but the music that lives forever does so because it lives in people’s hearts.”
That’s what he wants people to get from listening to The Deep End, Spyro Gyra’s third album on Heads Up International. The album is also available as an SACD in 5.1 Surround Sound (HUSA 9085).
“We really do put our hearts into the music we make,” says Beckenstein, who founded the band 30 years ago. “I hope that you can hear the passion, regardless of the fact that the styles bounce all around, like on all of our records. When people come up to me and tell me how much our music means to them, well, first of all, I love hearing that. I know where that’s coming from: it’s from that deep end inside each of them. That’s the place I want to keep going back to.”
The eleven tracks on The Deep End embrace a broad range of styles and colors – and indeed, emotions – yet hold together cohesively. It’s the kind of delicate balancing act that has made Spyro Gyra the contemporary jazz powerhouse that it’s been for three decades. With over 10 million albums sold, the group continues to break new ground with this latest outing, the follow-up to Original Cinema, which spent most of 2003 on Billboard’s Contemporary Jazz chart. Their 2001 Heads Up debut, In Modern Times, logged 64 weeks on Billboard’s Contemporary Jazz chart, peaking at #2.
The Deep End is marked by solid musicianship on all fronts – as usual – and songwriting contributions from numerous sources within the Spyro Gyra ranks: Beckenstein, guitarist/ vocalist Julio Fernandez, keyboardist Tom Schuman and bassist Scott Ambush. The Deep End also introduces the newest member of the band, Ludwig Afonso on drums on “Joburg Jam.”
The drum chair opened up as departing member Joel Rosenblatt, also on The Deep End, decided to try something new. The bandmembers tried out over twenty excellent drummers in scheduled auditions. Afonso unfortunately heard about it too late to get a slot. That didn’t deter him, though. He showed up, talked his way into getting a shot and wound up trumping everyone else.
Also joining them in this rock-solid ensemble is guest drummer Billy Kilson. Other musicians contributing to the album are vibraphonist Dave Samuels, trumpet player Don Harris and percussionists Cyro Baptista, David Charles and Daniel Sadownick. Jeremy Wall, a longtime collaborator with the band, contributes the opening track, “Summer Fling.”
“‘Monsoon’ is a tune that I love playing live,” says Beckenstein. “We’ve played it live for a couple years and I wanted to have this band playing it on an album. I really like it because it’s just a high-energy version of what, in my mind, the band is all about. I also like Scott’s ‘Wiggle Room,’ because it’s kind of left of center. I always like presenting that side of the band that some people might not immediately associate with us.”
But Beckenstein is quick to point out that there’s a softer side to The Deep End. “There’s a lot of beautiful material on the record too,” he says. “One that comes to mind is Julio’s tune, ‘The Crossing.’ It’s very passionate, very orchestral and atmospheric. You can hear that the guy’s heart is totally in this song and that’s why I love it.”
More than just exploring matters of the heart, though, The Deep End sets up a satisfying balance of the old and the new by capturing Spyro Gyra’s vintage sound as well as its more contemporary sensibilities. “There are a couple cuts on it that really strike me as being in the spirit of what we sounded like almost twenty years ago,” says Beckenstein. “I think Jeremy’s ‘Summer Fling’ has that kind of spirit. Likewise with my tune, ‘As You Wish.’ On the other hand, I think there are elements in it that sound totally consistent with what we’re doing live today.”
Rarely does a band weave so many layers of style and substance into a single recording. But then, Spyro Gyra is that rare musical collective that’s not afraid to let go and take the plunge into The Deep End.
And isn’t that what music is all about?
Let yourself go. It’s okay. We’ll be right here with you.