Original Cinema is the latest offering from jazz-fusion pioneers Spyro Gyra. They may not sound like the trailblazers that they were 1976 when they broke onto the scene with their brand of original and unusual fusion, but they most certainly have plenty to offer the discerning jazz lover today. They sound wonderful, although the once groundbreaking fusion sound that made them special has changed; it is still fusion, just with a different mellower feel. They are more of a funky contemporary and smooth jazz outfit now featuring the occasional rock-like guitar licks. Even so, there is plenty to celebrate here as this recording offers up a generous cross section of musical diversity.
They have an infectious and catchy rhythm ("Bump It Up" and "Extrovertical") as a solid base to work from in each track. With the help of several outstanding guest musicians, their core sound is changed and accentuated with such standout players such as Andy Narell, one of the world’s most prolific steel drum players. There is an underlying current in their characteristic river of sound that helps with defining the grand scheme of things, and that is the additional musicians. Narell and fellow percussionist David Charles, Mino Cinelu and Marc Quiñones, lend a tasteful down to earth funky rhythmic element to the music. It is like going away to distant lands to experience different cultures. Dave Samuels and his vibraphone, which adds a touch of class to the mix, is also a welcome addition. I need not understate the importance of the main players though; they make this musical cornucopia function. Jay Beckenstein’s saxophone is the archetypal instrument that every composition stems from. His playing is so commanding that it stands out and shines proudly waiting for accompaniment, and the band would be foolish not to allow him to take the lead. This does not underscore the rest of the band by any means; they are just as important to the outcome of each track as he is.
I found it very difficult to put this album on the shelf. I listened several times with great pleasure. There are not lot of albums I have heard in the past that I actually think of playing on a regular basis, like The Yellowjackets irresistible Samurai Samba or the incomparable duo of Dave Grusin and Lee Ritenour on the classic Latin jazz mix Harlequin. Few albums have that special magic that draws me in like a magnet; this album did that for me. In the end, the fact that Spyro Gyra no longer plays jazz-fusion as they once did really did not matter. This great album will help everyone forget all of that quickly, except for diehard fusion folks that probably stopped listening to their music once they changed their style anyway. Now this album is offered in a great new format so the person with the advanced stereo equipment can enjoy it even more, and those that do not can enjoy it just as much with what they have, which makes it that much more appealing to the music connoisseur in all of us.
Another note of interest that I feel is worth mentioning is that all the members of the band had a hand in the production of this album as well, which is a credit to their many years of experience and know how in the recording studio.