Spyro Gyra is an enduring contemporary jazz ensemble having endured because they always endeavor to provide their fans with interesting and creative music, both on stage and in the studio. Down The Wire, the new release is another fine addition to their noteworthy catalog. From start to finish, it contains marvelous musicianship and inspired compositional contributions by every member. Each savory listen reveals added depth, nuance, sophisticated intricacy, and harmonic hues to contemplate and enjoy.
The title track "Down The Wire," written by longtime group bassist Scott Ambush starts the CD off in fabulous fashion. Each member of the band has freedom to shine brightly on this up-tempo funk filled song with a danceable, head-nodding, deep groove led by Ambush himself. No wonder it was chosen to lead off the CD, and earn title track designation. The song is a surefire attention grabber. It’s followed by a lovely Latin flavored treat entitled "Unspoken," written by the group’s guitarist Julio Fernandez. Fernandez provides his usual polished top-notch performance and is ably aided by percussionist Gerardo Velez and the skilled sax stylings of Jay Beckenstein, the group’s founding father.
A cheerful playfulness encompasses "Not For Nothin’," showing the band having fun in a song that recalls their finest past work. Having fun has always been a key component of Sypro Gyra, and a major basis for their widespread appeal.
"Island Pond" is an introspective ballad that is utterly beautiful; at first featuring the tender tinkling keyboards of Tom Schuman, followed by Fernandez’s pleasingly graceful guitar. The two of them alternate in sharing the forefront with Beckenstein’s emotive saxophone. It’s one of those splendid songs that, even at six minutes running time, you wish could go on forever.
Classic bop with a driving bass line dominates "The Tippin’ Point," and gives Beckenstein further opportunity to sparkle on tenor sax. The magnificent, ever-energetic Jamaican born drummer and Las Vegas resident, Bonny B, displays his composition talents with "Ice Mountain," a fusion tour de force. Both of these very fine tunes afford the gifted ensemble ample occasion to fully exhibit their trademark talent for engaging improvisation.
"A Flower for Annie Jeanette" contains delicate piano flourishes, longing saxophone, and a bass lead line that coalesce for a yearning atmospheric aura that lingers in the air like an enticing perfume. "La Zona Rosa" is a Latin Rock/Jazz fusion number that brings to mind vintage Carlos Santana, Malo, or Azteca. A horn section consisting of Don Harris (trumpet), Bill Harris (tenor sax & flute), and Ozzie Melendez (trombone) and masterful sweltering percussion by frequent Spryo Gyra sideman Marc Quinones spicily flavors the exotic mix topped off by Fernandez’s fiery guitar licks. "What It Is" is unmistakably Spyro Gyra, providing the distinctive timbre and interesting quality sound that earned the group its reputation amongst the vanguard of innovative Contemporary Jazz. Sure to be a future concert classic, it might be the best song on a CD full of very good ones.
The slightly melancholy "A Distant Memory," features nice contributions from Schulman and Beckenstein, with the later doing a first-rate Pied Piper impersonation. Bonny B shows off his funk-blues vocals on "Make It Mine." The song with its heavy thumping groove gives the already diverse CD added variety, and reaffirms that you cannot place the group in any strict pigeon-hole. The addition of Bonny B to the group, was a very prudent musical decision. He is a well-oiled machine behind the drum kit, providing perfect sizzling rhythm without any unnecessary flash. This second offering (third if you count the Christmas CD) with him as a member of the ensemble finds him fitting in alongside these other virtuoso musicians, tight as a tourniquet.
The production value, as always, is flawless, with the flow of the tracks masterfully presented. Give Down The Wire a listen or two, and you just may well fall in love with this marvelously alluring collection.