Thirty-one years and 27 albums in (not including compilations), urban contemporary jazz unit Spyro Gyra
are playing with the funky inspiration and clever melodic and rhythmic invention that have made them synonymous with the genre, but that they haven't displayed on their own recordings for some time. This is not to say the quintet have ever been completely off their game. They know what they do, and do it extremely well -- they can make smooth and groove-oriented records all day long -- but the sheer edge and shifty, even knotty melodic ideas on "Good to Go-Go" feel adventurous in contrast to the records they've made since the beginning of the decade where they've fused smooth jazz to some Caribbean, Spanish, and other kinds of world music as well as written and recorded with pop vocalists. The adventure here is in the groove itself. First there is the opener, "Simple Pleasures," (composed by saxophonist Jay Beckenstein
) with its bassline-driven funky core, followed by "Get Busy" written by keyboardist Tom Schuman
. It is really busy but keeps its flow, melodically and rhythmically, never losing the central beat though its dynamics change radically and its lyric core on the heads is full of complex changes. "Jam Up" features the steel pans of Andy Narrell
and drummer Bonny B.
's backdrop (and irritating dancehall) vocals, but cooks with a reggae-propelled foreground, ending up in Spanish flamenco territory in the melodies. "The Left Bank," (Beckenstein
) and "Good to Go-Go" (by bassist Scott Ambush
) are down and dirty and full of compelling harmonic smoke if not all-out fire. The former is a funk tune with a slippery backbeat and beautiful counterpoint, and the latter pushes with killer B-3 playing by Shuman
, slapping bass by Ambush
and Bonny B.
's popping rimshots playing nearly against the melody. The blues groove in the latter tune (especially with Beckenstein
's and Julio Fernandez
's swinging, sting-happy six-string break, which gets touched off by Ambush
loping both into his bass solo) kicks the whole thing up into a rhythm and groove burner. "Island Time," is a carnival tune with solid jazz chops, and once again Narrell
's steel pans get a beautiful workout inside a nearly ecstatic lyric keyboard and saxophone head. Of course the rhythmic assistance by Marc Quiñones
doesn't hurt texturally either. "Newroses," by Beckenstein
, takes the album out on an even more complex set of changes than it strutted in with. It's got gorgeous, almost pastoral sections that come in just after the most complex and twist-and-turn headlines bring in a melody that breaks from a relatively simple groove and then unwinds into something other. According to taste of course, but Good to Go-Go
is the most satisfying release that Spyro Gyra
have released on Heads Up, and is a recording that brings that jazz back in a big way into the "urban contemporary" and "smooth" subgenres.