Spyro Gyra taps vinyl for inspiration

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Spyro Gyra taps vinyl for inspiration

Seminal contemporary jazz band mines a collection of vinyl classics for their first album in six years. “Vinyl Tap” drops October 11 with the first single, “Can’t Find My Way Home,” going for playlist adds September 23.

NEW YORK CITY (18 September 2019): Free of the tension of having to write great songs, the five members of Spyro Gyra were laughing and having fun in the recording studio. Creativity flowed as the venerable contemporary jazz band revisited the songs that inspired them from their youth when they were listening to music on vinyl. That artistic fount was spun into “Vinyl Tap,” Spyro Gyra’s first album in six years, which drops October 11 on the Amherst Records label.

“It was tensionless as we ‘warped’ the tunes. We had a world of brilliant music to choose from and we didn’t have to worry about writing brilliant music. It was a really fun project to make,” said saxophonist Jay Beckenstein, who will lead Spyro Gyra on tour to support “Vinyl Tap” with a string of US concert dates beginning November 15 in Newark, NJ after a three-week international trek that begins at the Cancun Jazz Festival on October 23.

When Spyro Gyra manager Phil Brennan proposed the albums concept a few years ago to bandleader Beckenstein for their 31st album, he knew that it might take some convincing, so he came prepared with an intriguing concept. Brennan suggested that the band use their arrangement talents to transform the originals into something brand new. The challenge appealed to Beckenstein, who soon overcame any misgivings.

“It’s cliché (to record covers) in saxophone-based contemporary jazz. We did not want to sound like a fantastic wedding band. I was really afraid that if we didn’t do our own thing, that our identity would be lost. It was imperative in the creative process – and everybody (in the band) knew this in a big way – that things had to be mixed up. Things had to be jolted out of the old way of approaching the songs. We really tried to come up with a new take on whatever (song) we were doing. We put solos into tunes that really are complete extensions that never had anything to do with the originals,” said Beckenstein.

What initially stands out on “Vinyl Tap,” which was produced by Spyro Gyra, are the wildly imaginative arrangements. Beckenstein said, “The arrangements were put together with everyone in my basement with all the equipment set up. We were all together in the pre-studio arrangement process. It was all done democratically. Spyro Gyra is a musician’s group collective. When you have five talented guys, you can do some cool arranging things.”

Spyro Gyra are Beckenstein, Tom Schuman (keyboards), Julio Fernandez (guitars), Scott Ambush (bass) and Lionel Cordew (drums). The musicians have somewhat of a wide range of ages, which explains some of the diversity of the material recorded for “Vinyl Tap.” Beckenstein selected the album opener, “Secret Agent Mash,” a supercharged and ultrahip mashup of “Secret Agent Man” and “Alfie’s Theme.” “Sunshine Of Your Love” is virtually unrecognizable in its new form as a Latin big band number. The first cut going for playlist adds on September 23 is the plaintive “Can’t Find My Way Home,” which takes on a bit of a western feel and benefits from the soulful perspective of Beckenstein’s saxophone protagonist. “What A Fool Believes” is slowed to become a contemplative power ballad that breaks into a mid-song swing cadence.

“I spent a lot of time listening to radio – classic rock radio – looking for material that had fantastic melodies. If there was a beautiful, arching melody, like ‘What A Fool Believes,’ it would definitely translate to my saxophone ‘voice,’” said Beckenstein.

Adding chromatic and bass harmonicas by Gary Schreiner, “The Cisco Kid” vacillates in time and tempo, letting the band members stretch out into improvisational banter. Exemplative of Spyro Gyra’s ethos, each band member shares the spotlight equitably, adding sweetness and redolent depth to “You’ve Got To Hide Your Love Away.” “Tempted” always oozed soul, but the band’s reading is deliberate, adding romance and underscoring the sweeping chorus. “Stolen Moments” is another that essentially becomes an “original” composition in Spyro Gyra’s inventive hands after the piece was reconstructed using entirely new, deft and complex rhythms. The set closes with an exhilarating romp cascading through a groovy expanse on “Carry On.”

“This is the first record we’ve done where we have allowed ourselves to do other people’s material full throttle,” said Beckenstein. “That is not to say in any way that we tried to copy what other people did, but it was really great to reach outside of our writing capabilities for inspiration for us to take off on. And that’s what this album is about.”

Pre-order sales for “Vinyl Tap” begin on iTunes and Amazon on September 23, the same day “Can’t Find My Way Home” becomes available.

“Vinyl Tap” contains the following songs:

“Secret Agent Mash”

“Sunshine Of Your Love”

“Can’t Find My Way Home”

“What A Fool Believes”

“The Cisco Kid”

“You’ve Got To Hide Your Love Away”

“Tempted”

“Stolen Moments”

“Carry On”

For more information, please visit https://spyrogyra.com.

A “BRIGHTER DAY” FOR SHA SHATY

Sha Shaty has been a part of the music scene for a very long time. However, his latest album is a reflection of a new beginning, thus aptly titled, “Brighter Day.” The masterpiece is comprised of all original music produced by Steve Oliver, a long-time fellow artist. Sha Shaty approached this album as he always has, appreciating his gift and using it to make the world a better place. He loves the process of creating, and “Brighter Day” is an expression of him evolving as an artist and “an extension of him.” The first single, “Dream Ride,” is inviting with just the right tempo enhanced by saxophonist, Will Donato. Also joining Sha Shaty on the album is drummer from Spyro Gyra, Bonny B, and vocalist, Usay Chu. He believes that “music should be a part of lifestyle,” and “Brighter Day” is a shining example of music variety at its best–full of depth and rich with layers that will captivate and stimulate listeners. Familiar fans as well as new fans will enjoy the unpredictable journey that is a “Brighter Day.”
Sha Shaty and I talk music and its impact:

ShaShaty

THE LEGENDARY SPYRO GYRA

In a studio in Rhinebeck, NY, the members of Spyro Gyra agreed to spend 3 days collectively improvising. After writing and recording for those 3 days, their new album, “The Rhinebeck Sessions,” was created. The legendary group has been making music and pleasing fans for over 35 years. Jay Beckenstein, the saxophone player, played all through school. His father exposed him to artists like Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie Parker. While in Germany with his father on an Army base, he had the opportunity to play in bands and was introduced to R&B. He later returned to the states and attended college in NY. When Jay graduated, he spent time working in bands around town and eventually reconnected with his friend Jeremy Wall. Together they would evolve into what we now know as Spyro Gyra. Much to their surprise, their early project skyrocketed, and the group sold over tens of thousands of records in a year. They immediately captured the attention of an audience that loved their music. Jay describes the group as an instrumental ensemble that rarely has vocals. He credits the band’s tendency to be natural, pure, unpretentious musicians who put the welfare of the band before themselves with its longevity. This is evident still when listening to “The Rhinebeck Sessions.” Although some may think it’s edgier than previous albums, it’s also Spyro Gyra at their best. Jay would like the legacy of Spyro Gyra to be that their music impacted a new generation.

Spyro Gyra

Spyro Gyra

Jay Beckenstein

Jay Beckenstein

Rising Star Kim Scott

She’s intelligent, articulate, and a classically trained flute player. Her name is Kim Scott. Scott’s talent and distinctive, polished tone can be heard every time she plays. She’s not just an artist but also an educator that finds joy in sharing her gift and knowledge of music with her students. Her debut CD, “Crossing Over,” climbed the music charts. She’s constantly evolving as an artist and performer, and her growth is undeniable on her sophomore CD “Rite of Passage,” produced by Kelvin Wooten. Kim also shows off her vocal skills on the song “Sweet Obsessions,” which she wrote. Her album is currently rising on the charts, and she continues to tour sharing her gift with the world. Kim’s a mother, a teacher, Chair of the Music Department of The Alabama School of Fine Arts, she plays with the Tuscaloosa Symphony Orchestra, and she’s a rising star in the world of Jazz. She does it all, and she does it with class.

Kim shares her story with me.

Jazz and Classical Flutist Kim Scott

Jazz and Classical Flutist Kim Scott

Kim Scott

Kim Scott

The multi-instrumentalist Euge Groove

He’s known for his chart topping hits, his use of many instruments, and as a quadruple threat. Euge is a saxophonist, composer, producer, and DJ. He immerses himself into his music, and remains true to his art and his fans. He grew up listening to all types of music, and that exposure helped shaped the musician he is today. Euge knows what it feels like to be at the top of your craft, and have numerous chart topping #1 hits. Yet he stays grounded and focused on his calling in life. His longevity in the industry speaks volumes about his talent. His latest album titled “HOUSE OF GROOVE” was recorded in only eight months, and delivers some powerful vocals from Jeffrey Osborne, Chioma, and Kate Miner.

Let’s hear his story in his own words.

Euge Groove

Euge Groove

Euge

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The forecast is bright

Looking ahead a few months, jump starting the 5th Annual Carolina Jazz Concert Series hosted by the Jazz Diva in Charlotte, NC will be Najee and Alex Bugnon on August 3rd at the Halton Theater. The second concert in the series will be headlined by Take 6 on September 28th at the Halton Theater. The season will end with a “MUST SEE” concert featuring Johnathan Butler on November 2nd at the Halton Theater. Tickets can be purchased for these shows at http://tix.cpcc.edu/events/carolina_jazz_concert_series or by calling 704-330-6534. Tickets go on sale on February 15th.

Guitarist Jonathan Butler

Guitarist Jonathan Butler

There are many concerts to attend this year. However, I must admit that I’m so excited to end the year with one very special evening with Spyro Gyra and The Yellowjackets on December 14th at 8:00pm. The show will be held at The Knight Theater in Charlotte, NC.  Tickets can be purchased at www.carolinatix.org, or by calling the box office at 704-372-1000. They are 2 of my all time favorite jazz bands that I’ve loved and listened to for many years. It’s like the best Christmas gift I could have received.  Thanks to the Jazz Diva Tammy Greene for making this happen. You don’t want to miss this opportunity to see them perform live. I can personally attest to that.

Spyro Gyra and The Yellowjackets

Spyro Gyra and The Yellowjackets