The holiday season. It brings a flood of memories to every man, woman and child, no matter what color of skin or religious belief. As with every holiday season it brings out the overwhelming rush of our personal ‘have-to get done list’ as well as all forms of media proclaiming to us what gift one absolutely cannot be without this festive season. It can be confusing, frustrating and hectic and if allowed to will take away the real beauty of the season, family and friends getting together. Just like the rest of the retail world the holiday season also brings us a flood of holiday music that can be difficult to sort through and after a while undistinguishable from piped in mall songs.
A lot of the new releases are simply holiday standards redone by an artist or artists, and those that are not are usually sold out and become an effort to find. Such is the case with the legendary Jazz band Spyro Gyra and their new holiday release “A Night Before Christmas.” You may not find it at your local music store but make the effort to find and hear it.
Spyro Gyra have spent the last 3 decades pushing the boundaries and definitions of Jazz becoming one of the most recognizable names in the world and with this their new holiday release they have connected to that time and place where tradition and fundamental values in music and life come together to create something new and fresh, yet friendly and familiar.
Let’s look at a few tracks. From the opening notes of ‘O Tannenbaum’ the strong feeling of tradition is there with the easy sound that incorporates the best elements of Jazz with R&B, Pop, Latin, World and other styles and has endured the band to so many world wide fans. It is a smoking track with a serious Spyro jam in the middle of it and is only the tip of the Christmas present.
One of the vocal tracks is next with Tony Award Winner Christine Ebersole’s smooth vocals along with an excellent bluesy vibe from Jay Beckenstein and band; it is bound to be one of the new holiday-radio standards.
On ‘Winter Wonderland’ vibraphonist Dave Samuels returns to add holiday chimes and vibes on another smooth Spyro Gyra version of a timeless holiday favorite. A holiday track that is a favorite being done the Spyro way is a real treat for the soul.
One of my personal picks on the disc is next with ‘Christmas Time Is Here’ done with a thoughtful and soulful saxophone from Jay in and around some tasty interplay from Julio Fernandez’s guitar and Tom Schuman’s piano. It is another standard setting performance from a band that gets it.
Manhattan Transfer founding member Janis Siegel joins drummer Bonny B for a super vocal on Frank Loesser’s “Baby Its Cold Outside.’ The group was aiming for an Ella Fitzgerald feel to the track and Janis nails it.
Dave Samuels returns once again for a sparkling version of ‘Carol of The Bells’ done the Spyro Gyra way with engaging phrasing complete with some wonderful vibe work from Dave. You will especially enjoy the snippets of a couple of timeless standards added so subtly.
Another personal favorite is the light yet deep reaching version of ‘Silent Night’, the instrumentation here is simple yet intimate enough to bring back those child memories that we all too often forget as the years go by. The playing here and on the whole disc is heartfelt and done with a passion for the season and its music.
So the legendary group Spyro Gyra have attained critical acclaim worldwide for their commitment to keep their musical focus interesting, festive and exciting. Three decades of keeping their music fresh yet friendly while pushing the boundaries of Jazz have allowed them this nostalgic moment of holiday blessings for listeners like you and me. So as the holiday season’s sometimes frantic pace drains your battery, check out the new holiday CD from Spyro Gyra ‘A Night Before Christmas’ for some holiday yuletide spirit with a warm, traditional yet fresh Jazz vibe… and take the time to enjoy the reason for the season. – by Paul Ericson