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Spyro Gyra: Original Cinema

After being 25 years, Spyro Gyra is having an identity crisis. The quintet views itself as being jazz innovators, but Spyro has long been strongly associated with smooth jazz, and many people view them as just another radio-friendly group. Putting out CDs slanted to that audience might have something to do with the perception, but with Original Cinema, saxophonist/leader Jay Beckenstein sought to create a recording that dispelled the notion.

For the most part, Original Cinema does little to back up its claim that it’s distinctly innovative-but that’s not to say there aren’t solid grooves and impressive playing on the recording. Spyro Gyra is unquestionably talented, and the group’s longevity isn’t a fluke. The band has always had a knack for melding driving, contemporary motifs with Caribbean and Latin nuances. That trademark tendency is still apparent on “Cape Town Love” and “Party of Seven,” which features former member Dave Samuels’ vibes, Andy Narell’s steel drums and Mino Cinelu’s percussion accentuating throughout.

“Extrovertical,” a dramatic funk-fusion number featuring bold saxophone choruses, snarling guitar and atmospheric synthesizers, probably won’t persuade anyone to see the band in a different light, but “Film Noir” might. The sophisticated song exhibits impressive solos from Beckenstein and keyboardist Tom Schuman. Also, the simple but resounding emotionality of “Flashback,” an acoustic gospel-tinged duet by Beckenstein and Schuman, produces a deeply reflective vibe.

But overall, if Spyro Gyra truly wants to change its image, a lot more thought and effort will be required.

Originally Published