Contemporary Jazz

VOICES Notes and news on Contemporary Jazz releases

Intriguing Sound

11 FEB 11 JONATHAN WIDRAN

Compared favorably by some fans to The Rippingtons, Flim & The BB's and Acoustic Planet -- all of whom were recording popular instrumental music in the late-'80s and early-'90s -- Spies' lone Telarc recording By Way Of The World was a quirky but sonically and rhythmically compelling date mixing techno-jazz and world fusion.

The progressive quintet of Paul Freeman, Richard Hahn, Jon Crosse, Jay Anderson and David Witham did more, however, than fashion an "around the world" journey in a modern electro-jazz context featuring exotic guests like Jose Feliciano and Alex Acuna. By Way Of The World was also the first CD ever to use Shure Stereosurround Full Logic on Dolby Surround and Dolby Pro-Logic Processors. So, while it's seemingly obscure musically, the collection actually represents a breakthrough in this type of encoding technology.

The follow-up to their 1998 debut Music Of Espionage features cool jaunts to Africa (the tribal chant filled "Doundounba/Mordenamba," "One For Tutu"), "Bahia" and a sitar-laden Middle East ["A Day In Tunisia (Tut's Strut)"]. "Now And Then" is slightly less exotic but no less percussive and adventurous thanks to Witham's hypnotic keyboards. One fan described it as a "reference quality disc for any stereo and/or stereo surround system one might own" and added: "The digital sound is virtually harsh free and is in fact quite smooth."

From a modern perspective, it represents an era when pop-jazz and progressive fusion could co-exist peacefully in an era when the New Adult Contemporary radio format was more open-minded and stylistically diverse than it has become in recent years.