Jay Beckenstein and his cohorts in Spryo Gyra are built for endurance. Long after jazz fusion bands like Weather Report and Return to Forever called it a day, the Beckenstein Bunch is still making great contemporary jazz like their latest release, The Deep End and hit the road to share their music with appreciative audiences at home and overseas.
It was a cool August night when Spryo Gyra took the stage to play some hot jazz. Jay's alto sax is complimented and augmented by the presence of Julio Fernandez (guitars), Scott Ambush (bass), Tom Schuman (keyboards) and Ludwig Afonso (drums). The vibes of Dave Samuels show up on the albums, but he no longer tours with the group. At first, that would seem to be a significant absence, but it's just another hurdle for the band to clear.
And clear it they did. Julio Fernandez is the band's showman as some of his guitar solos indicate a certain Carlos Santana-like quality. Spryo Gyra is like your favorite pair of shoes; not necessarily in style, but comfortable in their familiarity. As co-founder and saxman extraordinaire Beckenstein put it, "We've only had one hit in 26 years." True, but the large crowd gathered on the lawn of Wendy's International Headquarters could have cared less as they found the band's exploration of their 30-year career of making music to be both pleasing and satisfying.
From the opening notes of keyboardist's Schuman's "Rock Away the Sunset" the crowd was up off of their blankets and out of their lawn chairs and on their feet. This seemed to please Beckenstein who was happy people gathered to stand in front of the stage. This probably annoyed some who prefer to enjoy their music in a seated position and applaud politely at the end of a song, but most of the crowd was ready to get up and dance and the band gave them ample reason to do so.
Fernandez's "The Crossing" was a loving ode to his native Cuba. Beckenstein stepped into the spotlight with the lively "Capetown Love" as he demonstrated he influenced Kenny G's and Dave Kozs of the jazz world far more than they influenced him. Keyboard player Scott Ambush's "Wiggle Room" had the over-30 crowd on their feet and shaking their rumps to the funk. When "Morning Dance" (the band's lone hit and a staple of smooth jazz radio) made it's appearance it came with a Calypso-flavored beat that Beckenstein explained was, "this year's outfit." The band sent the crowd home happy with a closing encore featuring a lively interchange between Beckenstein and drummer Ludwig Afonso on "Walk the Walk."
And you probably thought the only hot spicy thing to come out of Buffalo, NY was buffalo chicken wings. As the band enters the European leg of their tour, that little fact is going to become quite clear to the unsuspecting audiences that turn out for Spyro Gyra.