ACOUSTIC ALCHEMY / SPYRO GYRA
Sunday, June 14 at 7 p.m.
Three-time Grammy® nominee, Acoustic Alchemy, is fast approaching a quarter century of recording, since 1987’s Red Dust and Spanish Lace established the ensemble as an ever-evolving force in contemporary jazz.
Acoustic Alchemy’s rich legacy is based on the extraordinary airplay, sales and critical reception, given the many early Nick Webb- and Greg Carmichael-led recordings, followed by those helmed later by Carmichael and Miles Gilderdale. Carmichael continues to carry on a legacy he began with Webb and a guitarist named Simon James in the early ’80s.
The band is finally putting the finishing touches on its long-awaited new album, due in late summer. Carmichael explains that the spirited feeling of the new record is the result of the natural chemistry he developed with Gilderdale over the years since Gilderdale became Carmichael’s full time creative partner, and after the passing of founding member Nick Webb in 1998.
The songs were recorded at Gilderdale’s home facility in York, England and were mixed at Richard Bull’s Higher Ground Studio in London and at Hansa Haus in Bonn Germany with Klaus Genuit.
As Spyro Gyra contemplates upcoming milestones in its storied career, it’s tempting to fall back on the Grateful Dead lyric, "What a long strange trip it’s been" to describe it. During its career, the band has performed over 5,000 shows, released 29 albums and sold over 10 million albums while achieving one platinum and two gold albums. What's more, 2014 marked 40 years as a band. Showing little sign of slowing down, the band has gained Grammy nominations for its last four albums.
Born in Brooklyn, bandleader Jay Beckenstein grew up listening to the music of Louis Armstrong, Charlie Parker, Sonny Rollins and Dizzy Gillespie, and started playing the saxophone at age seven. Beckenstein attended the University of Buffalo. During summer breaks, he and an old high school friend, keyboardist Jeremy Wall, played gigs together back on Long Island. Wall attended college in California and after they both graduated, Beckenstein stayed in Buffalo’s thriving music scene, where Wall eventually joined him.
"Not many people know it but Buffalo was like a mini Chicago back then, with a smoking blues, soul, jazz, even rockabilly scene, of all things," Beckenstein muses. "After being confined to classical music for so long, it was heaven. I was in the horn sections around town, backing some great vocalists."
Spyro Gyra, whose odd name has since become world famous, was first known simply as "Tuesday Night Jazz Jams," a forum wherein Beckenstein and Wall were joined by a rotating cast of characters. Tuesday just happened to be the night when most musicians weren’t playing other gigs to pay their bills. Around this time, a young keyboardist named Tom Schuman began sitting in when he was only 16 years old. Jeremy Wall left the band in 1978 and Tom Schuman is enjoying his 34th year as a full time member. The first few years saw the group’s identity split into a dynamic live act and a producer-centric recording process, born out of the rotating cast of characters from the Jazz Jams beginnings.