SPYRO GYRA — A Night Before Christmas (review)

SPYRO GYRA — A Night Before Christmas album cover Album · 2008 · Pop/Art Song/Folk Buy this album from MMA partners
3/5 ·
Matti P
[Like the majority of my JMA reviews, this is the first review for the artist in question.] The American, Buffalo-based fusion band Spyro Gyra has released albums at steady pace since 1974. I have only listened to three of them before this Christmas album. I have never fully been caught by their melodic and funkish fusion, which is probably mostly because of too little listening. Their music is fairly easy on the ears. I am not a big fan of Christmas albums in general, but I haven't heard too many from the jazz genre. And this actually sounds pretty nice, maybe even nicer than the Spyro albums I'm faintly familiar with.

Spyro Gyra usually performs their own compositions written by e.g. saxophonist Jay Beckenstein, guitarist Julio Fernandez or pianist Tom Schuman, but on their sole Christmas album there's only one original amongst more or less well known standards, four of them traditionals. The German folk song 'O Tannenbaum' starts the 11-piece set. I like the rhythm pattern over which the saxophone plays the melody. The piano has more improvisatory role, and the middle has a very cool solo. Six minutes pass by smoothly.

The few vocal guest appearances increase the album's appeal. Christine Ebersole -- never heard -- guests on 'It Won't Feel Like Christmas', a nice little holiday love song by Beckenstein and Terry Cox. 'Winter Wonderland' plays safe as a familiar lighthearted Christmas tune, and without the vibes guesting, it would feel a bit dull.

I think 'Christmas Time Is Here' originates from "Peanuts" animated special; Spyro Gyra made a nice instrumental jazz version of it. Frank Loesser's standard 'Baby It's Cold Outside' is a groovy duet between the drummer Bonny B and Janis Siegel of Manhattan Transfer fame. The beautiful traditional tune 'Carol of the Bells' has never become much heard in my country Finland, and here it's delightfully combined with the lovely 'Greensleeves', so this is among my album highlights.

Spyro Gyra's easy-going sax-led version of 'Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas' is not among my faves of this often covered song. 'The First Noel' belongs to those worn-out Christmas songs I really don't wish to hear repeatedly, but again the improvisatory moments do it good. 'Silent Night' is among my favourite Christmas songs, and I appreciate this arrangement doesn't entirely lose the sacred delicacy.

'This Christmas' from soul singer Donny Hathaway's pen wasn't familiar to me, so it comes as a nice "new tune" among standards. The album ends with Mel Tormé's well known 'The Christmas Song' in which Bonny B gives a personal vocal performance. All in all this album is well worth recommending if you're looking for jazzed-up Christmas music.
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