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Jazz - Released February 3, 2002 | GRP

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. © Jonathan Widran /TiVo
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Jazz Fusion & Jazz Rock - Released April 5, 1999 | Windham Hill Jazz

As one of the earliest and most popular purveyors of what came to be known as "smooth jazz," Spyro Gyra was an easy target for the jazz police as that format reached airplay ascendancy in the 1990s. Got the Magic shows the many strengths of the band but also serves up a couple of opportunities for the critics to take a swing at their radio-friendly commercial instincts. Mid- to up-tempo concoctions like "Silk and Satin" and "Havana Moonlight" make for some very pleasant listening, and the addition of old bandmate Dave Samuels' vibes on "Breezeway" and "Sierra" brings back the sound that attracted the group's audience in the first place. However, "Springtime Laughter," while a well-performed vocal by Basia, would have been a catchy contemporary jazz piece without the silly lyrics. And why is it necessary to have tacked-on background vocalists repeating a song's title as on "Love Comes" and the title track? Still, Spyro Gyra's music has more depth and kick than most of their brothers and sisters in the smooth or contemporary genre. Jay Beckenstein once again delivers some fine saxophone playing, Tom Schuman lays down nice keyboard textures, and guitarist Julio Fernandez enlivens several pieces with his tasty fretwork (and Benson-like scatting on "Sierra"). Got the Magic is full of accessible melodies and polished playing, adding up to a very enjoyable pop-jazz outing. © Jim Newsom /TiVo
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Jazz Fusion & Jazz Rock - Released September 24, 2013 | Crosseyed Bear Productions

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Jazz - Released June 9, 1989 | Verve Reissues

1989's Point of View is a much more up-tempo collection than Spyro Gyra had delivered on their last several albums; only Dave Samuels' lovely vibes- and percussion-enhanced "Riverwalk" counts as a ballad, and even it has a moderately sprightly tempo. The problem is that Spyro Gyra's slower and more impressionistic tunes have always been their most interesting, and the lack of ballads is a fairly big strike against Point of View. Also, the too-concise arrangements -- only the woefully misnamed "Swamp Thing" breaks the six-minute barrier, and over half the songs don't even hit five -- keeps the group members, who are all fine soloists when they get the opportunity, from breaking out long enough to really build something interesting. Not quite jazz, not quite pop, Point of View is a record made only for unobtrusive listening in the background of chain restaurants. Even Kenny G. fans might find this stuff insipid. © Stewart Mason /TiVo
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Funk - Released November 4, 2013 | Membran

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Jazz - Released June 4, 1999 | Windham Hill Jazz

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Jazz - Released January 1, 1992 | GRP

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Jazz - Released January 1, 1993 | GRP

Spyro Gyra mostly sticks to their formula of danceable melodic music on this GRP release but there are a few temporary departures. The harmonica of the talented Howard Levy is used prominently on "Breakfast at Igor's," two different horn sections pop up on a few songs and there are a pair of throwaway pop vocals from Alex Ligertwood. However, longtime Spyro Gyra fans have little to fear for the solos of saxophonist Jay Beckenstein and vibraphonist Dave Samuels are predictably pleasant, the light funk rhythms push the ensembles and the band's sound remains distinctive, familiar and comfortable. © Scott Yanow /TiVo
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Jazz - Released January 27, 2012 | in-akustik

Over 35 years into one of contemporary jazz fusion's most extraordinary evolving musical journeys, Spyro Gyra entered the 2010s where they began -- on their own indie label, Amherst Records, on which they released their self-titled debut in 1978. Driven by the melodic, jazzy, and increasingly global-minded vision of saxophonist and founder Jay Beckenstein, Spyro Gyra have undergone various personnel changes throughout the years while becoming serial world travelers. The concept of A Foreign Affair began with Beckenstein asking his crew -- Tom Schuman, Julio Fernandez, Scott Ambush, and Bonny B. -- to come up with impressions of these adventures. The results are dynamic, exotic, high-spirited, loaded with invention and improvisation, and even slightly spiritual in spots (the moody African-flavored "Khuda," featuring the dreamy, soaring vocals of young Indian singer Arijit Singh). The ports of call on the group's stylistic itinerary develop distinctive personalities as they evolve. They start with a relaxed and silky, sax-driven reggae sway on Beckenstein's "Caribe," then start dancing with Schuman's synth pans in fiery sync with the saxman's punchy lines on Bonny B.'s festive "Sweet Ole Thang." The bubbling, super-percussive "Falling Walls" by Fernandez is harder to place geographically but is reflective of the trademark adventurous Spyro Gyra sound of the 2000s. Schuman's mystical "Shinjuku" touches on the whimsical side of Spyro Gyra's numerous trips to Japan, where they have long enjoyed great popularity. There's also a graceful, lighthearted touch of Rio ("Samba for Two"), a balmy bossa romance ("Canção de Ninar"), and a return to the Caribbean via "Antigua." Ambush's expansive closer, "Dancing on Table Mountain," allows the bandmembers to stretch and show the depth of their jazzy possibilities. Between all the frequent flyer miles, two of the most interesting tracks are the beautiful, poignant vocal tracks by Keb' Mo' (the melancholy "Last Call") and Fernandez (the easy-rolling Latin-tinged cultural message song "Chileno Boys"). Over 30 recordings in, Spyro Gyra still had something fresh to say while fearlessly entering their fifth decade of recording. © Jonathan Widran /TiVo
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Jazz - Released January 1, 1990 | GRP

Spyro Gyra's first album for MCA after their longtime label, GRP-Crescendo, was absorbed into its corporate parent, 1990's Fast Forward carries the curious band subtitle "featuring Jay Beckenstein." Saxophonist Beckenstein has certainly always been the band's leader, writing a good chunk of the material and producing the albums, but given that the lineup is basically unchanged from the previous few Spyro Gyra albums, the new nomenclature is puzzling. It also goes against Spyro Gyra's entire musical aesthetic, as the group's unabashedly commercial and melodic style works against the traditional jazz concept of soloists and sidemen. Everyone on Fast Forward plays the melody, the whole melody, and nothing but the melody, with no improvisations or sidebars. The resulting tunes are unfailingly pleasant -- there's nothing here that would cause anyone to leap immediately to the forward skip button on their CD player -- but this relentlessly safe smooth jazz is unfortunately deficient on memorable songs, expressive playing, or foot-tapping tunes. It doesn't really "feature" anyone in particular. © Stewart Mason /TiVo
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Jazz - Released January 1, 1997 | GRP

Artistically, Spyro Gyra hit an all-time low in the mid-1990s. The use of outside arrangers and pop vocalists had proven detrimental, and the band was sounding even more formulaic than usual on banal albums like 1995's Love and Other Obsessions. More self-contained and devoid of adult contemporary singing, 20/20 is a slight improvement. Though Spyro still sounds contrived and is hardly challenging, a few of the songs are somewhat likable, including the moody "The Unwritten Letter" and the angular "Rockaway to Sunset." Dave Samuels, once a full-time member, makes a guest appearance on the salsa-influenced "South American Sojourn" and the Brazilian-ish "Dark-Eyed Lady" -- both of which, although pleasant enough, aren't nearly as interesting as the music he'd been creating in the Caribbean Jazz Project. And, not surprisingly, fluffy "elevator muzak" such as "Together" sounds like it was designed for only one purpose: radio airplay. © Alex Henderson /TiVo
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Contemporary Jazz - Released May 22, 2001 | Crosseyed Bear Productions

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Contemporary Jazz - Released February 25, 2003 | Crosseyed Bear Productions