Spyro Gyra

Down the Wire

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AllMusic Review by Alex Henderson

Creatively, Spyro Gyra have certainly had their ups and downs over the years. Leader/saxophonist Jay Beckenstein and his colleagues have recorded some real gems along the way, but they have also recorded their share of boring, forgettable "elevator muzak." Thankfully, there isn't an iota of "elevator muzak" to be found on Down the Wire, which is among the studio albums that captures the sort of energy and vitality Spyro Gyra are known for projecting on-stage. There are no misguided attempts to emulate Kenny G, Richard Elliot, or Najee on this 2009 release; Down the Wire is a legitimate fusion album -- accessible and melodic, but risk-taking, edgy, and faithful to jazz' improvisatory spirit. Beckenstein offers plenty of inspired solos, and Spyro Gyra (whose 2009 lineup also includes keyboardist Tom Schuman, guitarist Julio Fernandez, bassist Scott Ambush, and drummer/percussionist Bonny B.) aren't afraid to let loose on memorable selections like the Afro-Cuban-flavored "La Zona Rosa," the mysterious "Unspoken," and the vibrant "Ice Mountain." Down the Wire detours into straight-ahead post-bop territory on "The Tippin' Point," but most of the material combines jazz with elements of rock, funk, and soul -- which, of course, is what fusion is all about. Spyro Gyra's roots are Weather Report, Return to Forever, electric Miles Davis, and Herbie Hancock's Headhunters -- in other words, the adventurous, gutsy fusion of the '70s -- and their early albums reflected that. But sadly, Spyro Gyra's willingness to pander to commercial smooth jazz/NAC radio in the '90s resulted in an abundance of embarrassing fluff. However, there is no fluff on this 65-minute CD, which finds the Spyro Gyra of 2009 acting a lot like the freewheeling Spyro Gyra of the '70s and early '80s. Down the Wire is an engaging disc that Beckenstein should be proud to have in Spyro Gyra's catalog.

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