The Deep End by Spyro Gyra – reviewed by Chris Mann


The history of Spyro Gyra is a long and distinguished one.  In fact the band’s story spans 30 years, and its touring and recording successes have made it one of contemporary jazz’s cornerstones – I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that.  The band has undergone lineup changes and with “The Deep End”, it has released by my reckoning 28 albums, including 3 anthologies (including a rare 2-disc set) and 2 outstanding live sets. 

I would recommend you to visit their excellent website to get the full story and the exhaustive discography.  I just went through my own collection and until “The Deep End” dropped through my door, I had 17 of their CD’s.  This review was a pleasure – as you can imagine. 

The Jeremy Wall composition Summer Fling is a nice, gently funky opener showcasing Scott Ambush’s rock solid, always melodic bass, Dave Samuels on marimba and Jay Beckenstein’s sublime alto sax.  The guitar on here is a joy too.  There’s also good guitar on Eastlake Shuffle, which opens in a very groovy Larry Carlton style.  This song, whilst being slick, is like putting on a comfortable pair of shoes – at least it is for Spyro Gyra fans like me! 

Monsoon contains some of the most adventurous music I’ve heard the band play since “Stories Without Words”.  From its exotic opening with overtones of Indian music to its rocky close with some burning guitar from Julio Fernandez, it’s drama.  It has flavours of ‘70’s jazz-rock and I love it.  The mood lightens for the pretty As You Wish, which opens with Fernandez’ more delicate guitar work.  Everybody is to be admired for the light touch they bring to this song.  There is the right amount of everything.  The keyboard solo is juicy and really old-skool!!! 

The crisp snare of new drummer Ludwig Afonso drives the funky Joburg Jam.  I love the way this struts along and the confident sound of Beckenstein’s sax.  This must be awesome live – I’d enjoy dancing in the aisles to this one.  Dave Samuels’ vibes solo is like breath to me – essential.  This song gets an injection of rock guitar halfway through and steps up a gear.  The Crossing has yet more new age elements like Monsoon and starts off very much like John Patitucci’s “Two Worlds” before opening out into a joyous Special EFX-type number.  It’s always a Spyro Gyra tune though, with the trademark touches you’d expect.  This twists and turns and retains a lovely, almost African, feel.  The flamenco twist halfway through the song is gorgeous and the song builds and builds from there until its languid and atmospheric fade. 

You’ll want to wiggle when you hear the snazzy doubled bass and vibes lines in the Wiggle Room.  Funky, dark and just a little “dirty”, this is for the adventurous dancers and bass fans.  Mr Ambush – pullin’ off those Stanley Clarke-style harmonics – you rock!!!  Another killer-diller number for a live show.  This is my favourite song.  Re-re-rewind!!  You could call this smooth jazz – and you’d be wrong.  The opening to Wind Warriors is exotic with lots of percussion textures over some great keyboards.  The first thought I had when I heard this was the range of moods that this album takes you through.  Once upon a time, bands made records that you could listen to on headphones and get lost in…  Let me tell you – it still happens.  The soaring guitar reminds me of my favourite moments on old L.A. Express and Headhunters records.  Tom Schuman comes over all ‘Jan Hammer’ at the end.  Quality. 

Just to remind you that these guys have a mellow side, Julie Fernandez plays a pretty melody on In Your Arms.  This dreamy song has “film music” written all over it for me.  When is a studio going to give me the job of choosing music this good for movie audiences??  Cheeky, funky and guaranteed to make you smile – that’s Chippewa Street.  The brass almost sounds like car horns and the band are wearing their funk credentials with pride here.  It’s almost too good.  Mr Schuman plays up a storm on the organ – a real B3 – I don’t think so but who cares?  Could be the best ever set closer, perfect for those “teaser” false endings. 

The use of percussion on this record (there are three percussionists) is imaginative throughout and on the intro to Beyond the Rain, it’s outstanding.  Ambush and Beckenstein do a ‘Braxton Brothers’ with a high-register melody on the bass that’s doubled by the sax.  I love this.  This is really artistic stuff – when radio plays more music like this, I’ll feel we’re headed in the right direction. 

The 28th album from the mighty Spyro Gyra.  After all this time, it’s hard to believe that these guys have taken the best elements of contemporary jazz and laid them out before us like a young band that means it.  There is never a dull moment.  Don’t write this off as “smooth jazz” or you’ll be missing out on something really special.




Heads Up International – HU3085 – Executive Producer Jay Beckenstein