Jazz Project

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The Justus Brothers •••
The Justus Brothers

The roots of The Justus Brothers date back forty years ago in Memphis, the birthplace of soul, blues and rock ‘n’ roll. Guitarist Niko Lyras and The Justus Brothers produced the ten songs on their self-titled set, a balance of original tunes and choice covers given the full Memphis makeover. The chemistry between the five “brothers” sizzles throughout the collection. Lyras, Potts and bassist Dave Smith have been playing together the longest. Thirty years ago, hornman Pat Register (tenor, alto and soprano sax and flute) and keyboardist Jason Clark completed the family.

The Justus Brothers are direct descendants of the great Memphis soul fathers, having played with just about all of them. “We are brothers,” said Lyras, “and we know that something magical happens organically whenever we interact with each other.” The album opens with a Sting mashup of “Fragile” and “Fields of Gold,” followed by the band’s crackling royal funk dance, “King Strut.” The mood downshifts to romance on “Miss L,” an amorous jazz and blues song that Lyras wrote, again highlighting the group’s commitment to melody and emotion. The Justus Brothers contains the following songs: “Fragile Fields of Gold,” “Chinese Checkers, ” “Sabroso,” “Miss L,” “Askin’ Ain’t Getting,’” “Hip Pocket,” “King’s Strut,” “Garment District,” “I Keep Forgetting,” “Crazy,” featuring Katrina Anderson, and “Chinese Checkers” (radio remix).

Vinyl Tap •••
Spyro Gyra

What initially stands out on Vinyl Tap, which was produced by Spyro Gyra (his first in six years), are the wildly imaginative arrangements. “It was tensionless as we ‘warped’ the tunes. We had a world of brilliant music to choose from and we didn’t have to worry about writing brilliant music. It was a really fun project to make,” said saxophonist Jay Beckenstein. “It’s cliché (to record covers) in saxophone-based contemporary jazz. We put solos into tunes that really are complete extensions that never had anything to do with the originals,” he added. Mr. Beckenstein will join Mr. Gyra on an upcoming tour to support the release of the album.

The album opener, “Secret Agent Mash,” is a supercharged and ultrahip mashup of “Secret Agent Man” and “Alfie’s Theme.” “Sunshine Of Your Love” is virtually unrecognizable in its new form as a Latin big band number. The plaintive “Can’t Find My Way Home,” takes on a bit of a western feel and benefits from the soulful perspective of Mr. Beckenstein’s saxophone protagonist. “What A Fool Believes” is slowed to become a contemplative power ballad that breaks into a mid-song swing cadence. Adding chromatic and bass harmonicas by Gary Schreiner, “The Cisco Kid” vacillates in time and tempo, letting the band members stretch out into improvisational banter. Exemplative of Spyro Gyra’s ethos, each band member shares the spotlight equitably, adding sweetness and redolent depth to “You’ve Got To Hide Your Love Away.” “Tempted” always oozed soul, but the band’s reading is deliberate, adding romance and underscoring the sweeping chorus. “Stolen Moments” is another that essentially becomes an “original” composition in Spyro Gyra’s inventive hands after the piece was reconstructed using entirely new, deft and complex rhythms. The set closes with an exhilarating romp cascading through a groovy expanse on “Carry On.”

“This is the first record we’ve done where we have allowed ourselves to do other people’s material full throttle,” said Mr. Beckenstein. “That is not to say in any way that we tried to copy what other people did, but it was really great to reach outside of our writing capabilities for inspiration for us to take off on. And that’s what this album is about.” Also appearing on the album are Tom Schuman (keyboards), Julio Fernandez (guitars), Scott Ambush (bass) and Lionel Cordew (drums).