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Something nice to listen to

The Deep End<
The Deep End
By Spyro Gyra

Heads Up International: 2004

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This review first appeared in the Spring 2004 issue of Turbula.

Poor Spyro Gyra. All Jay Beckenstein and his bandmates have ever wanted to do is play their upbeat, brassy brand of easy listening music – a sort of updated version of Herb Alpert's Tijuana Brass sound.

But because they play instrumental music that isn't jazz, they've spent the past quarter-century being vilified by jazz critics as fakes and poseurs.

Which is too bad, because as jazz diva Jeannie Cheatham once admonished when a disparaging comment was made in reference to the late Ray Conniff, "Sometimes you just need something nice to listen to."

Spyro Gyra's latest album certainly fits that description. It is bright, breezy and friendly pop music perfect for dinner, cocktails or just relaxing. Founder Beckenstein has continued honing that fat tone on saxophones, Julio Fernandez is as accessible as George Benson on guitars, and longtime Spyro Gyra member Dave Samuels even drops even on vibes for four songs.

The new songs may be a notch below those from their best recordings from the 1980s that made the band into stars, but they've still got that infectious R&B groove down tight, that signature sound that informs all their music. And on Beckenstein's composition, "Monsoon," the band shows a harder, rock-based edge that fits them quite well.