Graded on a Curve:
Spyro Gyra,
Spyro Gyra

What species of geniuses names their band after pond scum? You would have to ask Buffalo, New York’s Spyro Gyra, the everything-but-the-kitchen-sink fusion outfit whose easy listening vibes are designed to please the sorts of people who consider latter day Steely Dan a free jazz band.

Don’t get me wrong—I have no personal animus against pond scum. It contributes far more to the world than I do. I simply don’t want it moving into my neighborhood. Or my ears for that matter. I’m listening to Spyro Gyra’s 1978 eponymous debut as I write this, and my ears are busy composing a petition to have its toothless fusion forcibly removed from the stereo.

Spyro Gyra’s bright and sunny sound is dominated by Jay Beckenstein’s saxophones, your usual guitars and synthesizers, and enough percussion instruments to form at least ten world music bands. Their music is for the most part unrelentingly chipper, although there are moments of quasi-New Age introspection.

The only song with teeth is “Pygmy Funk,” which is no great shakes but at least has the shadow of an edge, which is more—far more—than can be said for such dentures-friendly easy-listening exercises as “Cascade, “Galadriel,” and “Mallet Ballet,” which is so pretty you’ll want to hit it with a mallet. A very heavy mallet. Over and over again until it stops moving.

Most of the LP’s songs truck in the lightweight exotic, with funk-lite overtones. Opener “Shaker Song” has a Caribbean flavor gratis its prominent congas and marimbas, but as always it’s Beckenstein who’s front and center. “Opus D’Opus” opens with Beckenstein doing a mediocre John Coltrane imitation to the accompaniment of some brush work, then lively ups itself, staying cheerful enough to make you long for Leonard Cohen.

“Leticia” opens with bird song, some percussion comes in, and then a sound so bright and mellow assails you—you’ll want to sign up for a Caribbean cruise and dance the night away, that or until the toilets stop up or Salmonella causes your rear end to produce bilge water. But boy can that Beckenstein guy spew lots of notes in a rush!

“Mead” is mediocre funk undone by Beckenstein’s MOR horn—the synthesizer solo is somewhat more exciting, but the “let’s get down” section at the end is fly-circling-your-face annoying. “Paula/Paw Prints” opens with cocktail lounge piano, veers into Grateful Dead Terrapin Station territory, then pushes its way into realms where even Terrapin Station (or Bill Payne of Little Feat) would fear to tread.

“The Scum,” as their fans (or just me actually) like to call them, make anodyne music for people who like to live as far from the edge as humanly possible, and they do it with what can only be called inoffensive elan. To be fair non-edge dwellers deserve music they can love too, and to give Spyro Gyra credit where credit is due, they’re leagues better than many of their St. Joseph Baby Fusion counterparts. Which doesn’t change the fact that when I hear them I reach for my mallet.

GRADED ON A CURVE:
D-

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