Jazz concerts in the City of Houston are rarely if ever have a predictable measure of success. In many ways, they can best be compared to the flip of a coin, heads I win, tells you lose. Sometimes shows are successful, and to a large degree there are those instances when they are not. The reason being, Houston is an extremely difficult town for jazz, especially live performances. Factors determining the success or failure of a concert in the city are not clear cut. Shows that are expected to be heavily attended are not, while others defy logical explanation at any level. One thing is certain when gauging the level of success of any given event, if the right artist or group is presented, people will come. That appears to be the norm whenever Spyro Gyra comes to Houston to put on one of their patented live performances.
As a part of an on-going effort to highlight smooth jazz, Houston's own "95.7 FM The Wave" radio station brought Spyro Gyra to The Verizon Wireless Theater for a one night display of contemporary jazz excellence. The group is one of many acts 95.7 FM has brought to the city as a part of their "Wave Concert Series." Of all the acts presented by the station, Spyro Gyra definitely ranks high on the list of must see concerts. Over the past 27 years, Spyro Gyra has become one of the most successful groups in contemporary jazz. Houston's level of enthusiasm for the group has mirrored that same level of support. On September 19th, a near capacity crowd experienced one of the best concerts to have come through Houston in quite some time. Not only was there a high degree of fan support exhibited, the concert was an all-around display of contemporary jazz at its best.
Opening for Spyro Gyra was Jeff Lorber, another one of contemporary jazz's most enduring artists. His level of longevity mirrors that of Spyro Gyra and over the years he has played, recorded and toured with some of the best musicians of his time. Riding high on his latest release 'Philly Style', Jeff Lorber and his band carried the audience on a fascinating excursion through sight and sound. His style of music featured soulful R&B based lines coupled with the rich dynamic influences of urban rhythms. One of the highlights of Jeff's performance was the introduction of Rayford Griffin, a drummer filled with percussive rhythms and a commanding presence while playing. His impact on the audience was enthusiastic and heart felt. Another sleeper in Lorber's band was saxophonist Gary Meek. Both he and Griffin have played with just about everybody in contemporary jazz over the years. Both guys are solo recording artists with considerable merit. Collectively, they set the tone for what was surely going to be a great concert in the mind's of staunch Spyro Gyra fans. By all accounts, Jeff Lorber and company was a great appetizer.
With a career spanning 27 years of excellence, it can almost be said that Spyro Gyra has been there, did that and done that. For those jazz aficionados who have followed them over time have come to realize that this band has consistently found ways to re-invent themselves. Even with that idea in mind, Spyro Gyra has managed to maintain their identity without wavering from their original premise. Each encounter is always going to be Spyro Gyra, but they always manage to provide a slight twist in perspective. That is exactly what they brought to an enthused audience in Houston on Friday, September 19th. With nuances from their latest CD entitled 'Original Cinema', as well as retrospective reflections from previous releases, Jay Beckenstein, Tom Schuman, Julio Fernandez and Scott Ambush, otherwise known as Spyro Gyra delivered a rousing multi-faceted array of smooth contemporary jazz. Over the years, Jay Beckenstein has led the band through many of the changes that have impacted them since the advent of smooth jazz. If their Houston performance was any indication, Jay and company have adapted to the changes very well. By most standards, they are and will continue to be a finely-tuned jazz activated sound energy ray of expression.
If the performance generated by Spyro Gyra is what a successful jazz concert can be about, there may be hope for Houston as a whole. Historically, certain bands and artists have had tremendous appeal as a whole. "The Wave 95.7 Concert Series" could be the mechanism to improve the level of exposure that few Houstonians get to experience otherwise. In other major cities and even some of the minor ones, the level of enthusiasm for jazz is tremendous. Houston aficionados seem to have little tolerance for the genre as a whole. By all accounts, Spyro Gyra's and Jeff Lorber's visit was an excellent show; but then again, both time and popularity have made both household names everywhere, even in a city like Houston.