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Spyro Gyra: In Modern Times

In 2000, saxophonist Jay Beckenstein released his first solo CD, Eye Contact (Windham Hill), a masterful work marrying his storied fusion background with his straightahead instincts. As leader of the prolific Spyro Gyra, he’s overseen some moments of greatness and periods of unevenness as the band’s sound grew tired in recent years, but, like Eye Contact, In Modern Times is a great album.

The CD is a return to form for Spyro Gyra. It targets the smooth-jazz masses, but Beckenstein has enough chops to slip in mainstream touches, such as on “East River Blue,” where his sax has never sounded better-or jazzier. Beckenstein wrote that song, in addition to the now-obligatory Latin-infused jam, “Florida Straits,” and “Feelin’ Fine,” which has inspired and hooky work by guitarist Julio Fernandez.

Although Beckenstein is Spyro Gyra’s leader, the band has thrived as a collaboration among Beckenstein, Fernandez and keyboardist Tom Schuman. Fernandez penned two tracks, the bluesy “Julio’s Party” and the ultrasmooth “Open Door.” Schuman wrote “Groovin’ for Grover” for Beckenstein’s sax contemporary, and while Beckenstein gets his licks in, it’s Schuman who shines. Bassist Scott Ambush (“The River Between”) and drummer Joel Rosenblatt (“Planet J”) throw their compositional talents into the mix as well. All take turns producing, as does guitarist Chuck Loeb, who co-wrote two songs.

Spyro Gyra has never lost its fusion sensibilities, which sets it apart from other, newer bands that may have more polished, radio-driven goals. Spyro Gyra makes the music it wants to-and does it well.

Originally Published