Although Spyro Gyra's late-'70s instrumental pop chart hit "Morning Dance" is always credited by some for opening doors for the genre that folks would later call smooth jazz, this 16-track compilation -- part of GRP's new classic artist collector's series -- shows that saxman Jay Beckenstein and company never really fit perfectly into any category. And that's by design. Manager Philip Brennan sequenced these tracks with GRP A&R guy Bud Harner, wisely choosing to make a live version of "Morning Dance" the last track, something of an afterthought, since most of the material here (from 1988 through 1997) is far more challenging and exciting. You won't catch the scorching Latin jams "Breakfast at Igor's" or "Para Ti Latino" on any smooth station, and even lighthearted tracks like keyboardist Tom Schuman's "You Can Count on Me" are a little too island-minded to hit the R&B-focused genre listener these days. "Three Wishes" is Beckenstein's very likeable attempt at a traditional jazz approach. The band did find some smooth jazz success by finding the right combination with guitarist Chieli Minucci on the seductive "Ariana," but it's easy to see from most of these tracks that its true creative heart lay elsewhere. They've survived by building their fan base and offering one of contemporary instrumental music's best live shows year after year. It would be hard for one CD to capture the many facets of a band who's more than a quarter century old, but this is a must-have for longtime fans and those wanting an intro to the Spyro Gyra experience.
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AllMusic Review by Jonathan Widran