Over the years, as contemporary instrumental music has evolved through many different stylistic names and formats -- from fusion to rhythm & jazz to smooth jazz -- the one constant in both popularity and musical ingenuity has been Spyro Gyra. Jay Beckenstein's roaring, emotional saxophones have been the anchor of the band's multi-genre signature sound, but there has always been more to his artistry and musical soul than Spyro's discography can document. No doubt as Beckenstein was itching all these years to do a solo venture, Spyro fans were just as eager to check out a full-scale personal revelation -- a deeper portrait of the man behind the music. After 23 albums on three labels -- including 1999's Windham Hill Jazz debut Got the Magic -- Beckenstein makes an exciting departure from his almost annual ensemble recording schedule with Eye Contact, his highly anticipated debut -- a knockout punch delivered with the help of musicians and producers Chieli Minucci (Special EFX), Jason Miles (Miles Davis, David Sanborn), Jeff Beal, and Chuck Loeb. One could also refer to Eye Contact as "the Bass Player Magazine project" thanks to contributions by world-class bassists Mark Egan, Marcus Miller, Will Lee, John Patitucci, and South African player Bakithi Kumalo. Over a pitter-patter percussion pattern, Beckenstein's sweet soprano swirls magnificently around Minucci's breezy acoustic guitar lines on "Sunrise" before Miles surrounds the saxman's confident, strutting alto with moody atmospheres and a rolling bass groove on the aptly titled "West Side Cool." The bluesy, retro-soul flavored "Northline" finds Loeb's crying guitar line and organ simmering around the alto, while the title track features Beckenstein and the guitarist creating pure romantic passion in tandem. Loeb's acoustic improvisations ease in and around Beckenstein's clever alto and tenor horn doubling and Mark Egan's winding basslines on the upbeat "The Other Side." After another triumphant Beckenstein and Loeb romance on the soprano-led "Heart and Mind," the saxman pays tribute to his one-time teacher Charles Mingus with a smoky, trio-flavored, almost avante-garde approach to the legendary bassist's "Goodbye Pork Pie Hat" (featuring John Patitucci).
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AllMusic Review by Jonathan Widran