Review and photos by Patrick Dunn
Both band and audience shared an enthusiasm last night that extended beyond the usual pre-show anticipatory buzz, everyone was openly thrilled to be back inside Dakota in downtown Minneapolis. Notable improvements to stage lighting and video projection matched with what had already been a consistent track record for exceptional sound now makes the venue even more attractive.
After 2 pandemic driven postponements dating as far back as December 2020, Spyro Gyra was finally here and appeared to enjoy and appreciate their time back on this familiar stage in front of Twin Cities listeners. Saxophonist and founding member, Jay Beckenstein summed their current position up best stating, “We had a whole year and a half to decide whether this is the life we want to continue leading and boy oh boy … it is!”
The band played material off their most recent release of well-known cover tunes called “Vinyl Tap”, the best being their version of “What a Fool Believes” (Michael McDonald / Kenny Loggins). They chose to pack their biggest hits into a single upbeat medley that was delivered early in the set to spark audience engagement via an effective use of the feel-good tropical sound that originally got them noticed. Other selections offered space for each player to shine as the jazz format permits better than any other genre.
While Beckenstein delivers the melody lines for most of their tunes, “Captain Karma” allowed him to demonstrate a rare ability to blow 2 horns at the same time, creating a special harmony that was amazing. His most expressive playing came out during the emotional composition “Unknow Soldier”, which was also a stand-out tune for keyboardist Tom Schuman. Guitarist Julio Fernandez had lots of captivating moments spread out across the entire set, but opening track “Walk the Walk” got him noticed right off the bat. It was all about the low-end for the funk inspired “Cockatoo”. The rhythm section stepped aside, putting the spotlight on 5-string bass master Scott Ambush and drummer Lionel Cordew for dueling solos and a call and response section that ended up being a crowd favorite.
If I had to sum this band up in one word, it would be “tight”. This sought-after trait can only be developed through extensive time playing / performing together, which Spyro Gyra has certainly over-delivered on and doesn’t appear to have any plans for stopping anytime soon.
Walk the Walk
What a Fool Believes
Old San Juan
Dance on Table Mountain