Contemporary Jazz

Balancing Act


The press material for Spyro Gyra's seventh Heads Up recording Down The Wire includes a prominent quote from Karl Wallenda, patriarch of the legendary aerialist family: "Life is being on the wire, everything else is just waiting."

It conveys the parallels between the exciting uncertainty of life and the kind of inspired, high spirited jazz fusion the famed Buffalo-bred band brings to its performances and creates on this adventurous recording. All it really takes for saxman/founder Jay Beckenstein and company to achieve that is to get back to the freewheeling basics of what contemporary jazz was in the group's late-'70s heyday, when creativity and improvisation was rewarded over superficial radio friendliness.

So while smooth jazz radio is still enamored of the infectious 1979 pop hit "Morning Dance," the band -- whose current lineup includes keyboardist Tom Schuman, guitarist Julio Fernandez, bassist Scott Ambush and drummer Bonny B. -- can dance on the wire over the coolly funky currents of the title track, the trad-jazz swing of "The Tippin' Point" and the fiery Latin blast "La Zona Rosa."

Even the laid back pieces boast more adventure than the typical stuff the format plays these days. The back-to-basics vibe was no doubt influenced by the fact that this is the first Spyro recording to come out of Buffalo in 30 years. Beckenstein calls it a more relaxed experience than working in a New York studio. He said, "For as long as I've been away, I've never personally stopped feeling that part of me is a Buffalonian." Tim Russert would be proud.