Spyro Gyra - Jazz Fusion Legends
Celebrate Their Past & Present at the MPAC
A SoundPress.net Feature Article by Rich and Laura Lynch

In 2014, Spyro Gyra will celebrate forty years as a band. During their four decade history they have performed over 5000 shows and have sold millions of records. Spyro Gyra was founded and is led by saxophonist Jay Beckenstein. There have been member and style changes over the years but the essence of Spyro Gyra is jazz. Their initial influences included Return to Forever and Weather Report. Their sound evolved from these roots with Spyro Gyra adding other elements such as Caribbean, funk, jam, pop, R&B and world into their instrumentals.

Spyro Gyra - Jazz Fusion Legends Celebrate Their Past & Present at the MPAC
Spyro Gyra takes the stage at the MPAC in Morristown.

Spyro Gyra recently put out The Rhinebeck Sessions. The CD has been described as an improvisational project where the band wrote and recorded it over a three day period. They relied on their chemistry to guide the music. Spyro Gyra are also commemorating the release of Morning Dance (1979). The album was a crossover pop breakthrough for this jazz fusion band. Spyro Gyra still tours on a regular basis. They presented the Morning Dance 35th Anniversary Tour at the Mayo Performing Arts Center (MPAC) in Morristown, New Jersey on March 20, 2014.

The stage design was straightforward with a large screen over the stage used to add colorful imagery to Spyro Gyra's complex music. As they came out, the band was greeted enthusiastically by their fans. They opened with "Morning Dance" a shimmering fusion of Caribbean textures with jazz tones setting the mood for the first half of the show which focused on the Morning Dance record.

"Good evening," greeted Jay. He mentioned the album sharing that they usually prefer to move forward musically yet when Jay went back and listened to Morning Dance he realized it was a joyous record and it would be a pleasure to cover it. "Jubilee" was a jubilant jaunt of crafty changes layered over riveting rhythms. Beckenstein chatted more about their early days, stating that his Dad had given him the money to make their first record. By the time they were creating Morning Dance the band was doing better. Jay asked his father if he wanted the cash reimbursed, his Dad replied write something for your mother instead. This account flowed into the lively "Song For Lorraine" a spry piece with spirited solos.

"'Heliopolis' means city of the sun, wishful thinking since the band formed in Buffalo," commented Jay as they performed the bold and bright instrumental. World flavors along with a sassy sax solo added to the warmth of the tune. "It Doesn't Matter" allowed Julio Fernandez to shine on this graceful piece with his guitar solos floating to the top of the mix. Syro Gyra finished the first set with the dynamic "End of Romanticism". Jay jested that it was gothic fusion circa 1979.

Julio also played a big role in the second set as Spyro Gyra performed a Cuban influenced jam where Fernandez melded his Havana guitar heritage with jazz. There was some Spanish sung over subtle strumming with a transition into flashier Cuban rhythms. The second set also featured music from The Rhinebeck Sessions. Jay described it as "looser" although the band seemed just as tight on these tunes as the others. We suppose Beckenstein was referring to the creative process rather than their presentation.

"Not Unlike That" was a feisty, funky instrumental that flowed into a beguiling bass solo. Scott Ambush showcased a wide range of tools melding rhythm, leads and thumb thumps in his segment. The others blended back into the mix as the bass continued to set the pulse for this jam. Spyro Gyra were masters weaving in and out of complicated compositions with ease. Keyboardist Tom Schuman added many interesting accents to the jazz based music. Also, at one point during the night Jay played not one but two saxes at the same time!

"Odds Get Even" also from the new record included a daring drum solo from Lee Pearson. The complex drum patterns were impressive yet his tricks even more so. Lee balanced a drum stick on his head as he pounded away at the skins. Later, he crossed his arms behind his back still beating on the drums. It was a primal yet precise presentation. The rest of the band returned and encouraged the fans to clap along as they jammed through the closing number.

"You were a great audience," exclaimed Beckenstein, thanking the crowd for being quiet when appropriate and enthusiastic as called for. Spyro Gyra's encore was an animated instrumental ending the MPAC show on a delightful note. The MPAC - in the heart of the downtown - hosts a wide range of shows such as Spyro Gyra. Upcoming events include Keb' Mo, Tao, Jim Belushi, NJ Jazz Society, Jay Leno, The Laurie Berkner Band, NJSO:Verdi's Requiem and Dinosaur Zoo Live.

Spyro Gyra - Jazz Fusion Legends Celebrate Their Past & Present at the MPAC

Related Links: For more information on SPYRO GYRA and the other organizations mentioned please visit the following links - Spyro Gyra | Mayo Performing Arts Center

(Originally Published on March 22, 2014)

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