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Spyro Gyra

Down the Wire

(Heads Up; US: 28 May 2009; UK: 27 May 2009)

Hey, Dad?


Yes, son?


What’s a Spyro Gyra?


A what?  You’re too young to talk about that stuff, Timmy. Let’s wait until high school for all that birds ‘n’ bees talk.


No, Dad, not that.  I’m talking about this ‘compact disc’ you have here with the science-fiction guy walking on a tightrope with the lame orbs and zig-zags in the background. What is “Spyro Gyra”?


Ahhh, Li’l Timmy, that’s something called “jazz”—something you wouldn’t understand. It’s what Daddy listens to when he is with other grown-ups, . . . including Mr. Bartles and Mr., heh-heh, James.


But I know all about jazz, Dad. We learned about Duke Ellington in school.


Huh?  Who? Was he with the Yellowjackets?


The famous big-band leader and composer, Dad? Like, ‘Take the A Train’?


No, no, Timmy. I’m talking about jazz, not that ancient history. Spyro Gyra plays JAZZ with funky beats and synthesizers and snappy melodies. Up-to-the-minute-let’s-have-another-Margarita kind of music, son. Some day you’ll understand.


Is it good?


Of course it is! Spyro Gyra has made over 25 albums. They must be pretty good, don’t you think?


I guess. Can I put it on, Dad?


You’re growing up fast, Timmy. There you go. Hot-grooving stuff, huh?


You bet, Dad! It sounds delicious!


Nice vocabulary, Timmy!


Well, what I mean is, this sounds like the music I hear when I go to the supermarket with Mommy.


Is Mommy shopping in that expensive supermarket again?


This song has the same popping-bass line the supermarket music has; that’s all. And the saxophone playing the melody instead of a singer. Can I have some frozen pizza, Dad?


First: we already ate. Second: this is not supermarket music. Listen to this one, ‘The Tippin’ Point’.


OK, I hear it now. This does sound more like Duke Ellington. Like, the guy is playing a real piano instead something that sounds like that Casio keyboard you left up in up my bedroom closet. And plus the saxophone sounds cooler—less like it just wants to be happy all the time.


That’s Jay Beckenstein on saxophone, Tim. And Tom Schuman on piano, who plays beautifully.


There they go, Dad—they’re swinging. That cool, rubbery feeling with a bass walking along and the drummer keeping time. The teacher said that was swing. So, tt is jazz after all!


Heck of an education you’re getting there, son.


Can we listen another song that has an apostrophe at the end instead of a ‘G’? ‘Not For Nothin’‘?


You bet, son.


Hmmm. This one sounds a little bit like the music from one of my videogames. Kind of like a computer made it. I mean, that’s not such a bad thing, Dad. If my band sounded like it was named after some kind of a virus or a disease or whatever, then I think making computer music would sound like a good antidote.


Keep listening, Timmy. How about this next song, ‘Island Pond’. Real pretty, right?


The piano guy and the saxophone guy sound like they are old friends, just the two of them playing together.


They are, son. Those two guys have been on every Spyro Gyra album together, the only two.


Then why’d they let the other guys start playing on this song and supermarket-ing it all up?


Look, I’m going to play you a cooler song, like the stuff Uncle Steve and I used to listen to in the ‘70s in high school. ‘Ice Mountain’. Cool, huh? That’s what we used to call ‘jazz-rock fusion’, Timmy.


Crazy, Dad. Complicated. It sounds hard to play—really hard to play.


You got to practice for a long time to play that well, son.


It kind of sounds like they’re practicing on this very song, Dad. Why is this other song title in Spanish?


Well, that song kind of sounds, uh, Spanish, son. ‘La Zona Rosa’. Tom Schuman plays a Latin piano lick like Eddie Palmieri, then the guitarist, Julio Fernandez, plays a solo where he sounds just like Carlos Santana. On this last song, ‘Make It Mine’, the drummer even sings—at first like he is James Brown, and then later like he’s Rick James, and then a whole lot like George Benson.


Yeah, I hear it. These guys are good at sounding like other guys. They sound all different ways.


Maybe that’s why they’ve been around so long, Timmy. It’s not so easy to get tired of this Spyro Gyra music. It kind of jumps around. You like that, don’t you, Timmy? You love to jump around.


I guess. Except.


Except what?


Except this all still sounds like the supermarket music, and I still want some frozen pizza, Dad.


Ugh. Plain or pepperoni?


After all that Spyro Gyra, I think some pepperoni might spice things up a bit.

Rating:

Will Layman is a writer, teacher and musician living in the Washington, DC area. He is a contributor to National Public Radio and frequently appears as a guest on WNYC's "Soundcheck" as a jazz critic. He plays both funk and jazz in the bars and clubs in and near the nation's capital. His fiction and humor appear in print and online.


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Spyro Gyra get their highly complicated funk on.
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