It’s called fusion – a crossroads of modern bop jazz with the more “prog” precincts of the rock record racks, a musical niche that was born in the late ’60s/early ’70s album-rock era, and amazingly shows no signs of having slipped permanently into the cut-out bin of history.
While it can sometimes transmute into a weaponized grade of easy-listening when placed in the wrong hands, the genre’s been graced with the long-run dedication and commitment of some skilled ambassadors. And on Thursday, two such hard-touring combos take it to the jazz-friendly stage of the Count Basie Theatre in Red Bank.
Returning to town for the first time in several seasons, the “jazz juggernaut” known as Spyro Gyra marked a pretty awesome milestone last year, when the Buffalo, New York-based band celebrated the 40th anniversary of its origins as a “jam nite” attraction at a local pub.
Since then, the stats have been staggering: more than 5,000 concerts performed on five continents; record sales upwards of 10 million units; over 30 albums and counting. But when the current configuration (bassist Scott Ambush, saxman Jay Beckenstein, guitarist Julio Fernandez, drummer Lee Pearson, keyboardist Tom Schuman) treads the Basie boards, the only number that matters is what they’re playing in the here-and-now moment: an ongoing exploration of their formidable catalog, energized by a forward-looking momentum that hasn’t steered them wrong yet.
Compared to Spyro Gyra, the quartet Fourplay is a spring-chicken organization that’s been plying its brand of R&B-flavored fusion for a mere couple of decades and change — a genuine “supergroup” whose ranks have included master jazz guitarists Lee Ritenour and Larry Carlton (and whose stringbender slot has since been dignified by Chuck Loeb). The Grammy-winning soloist joins founding members Bob James (keyboardist, Grammy’d producer, composer of TV’s Taxi theme and more), bassman Nathan East (Michael Jackson, Eric Clapton, George Harrison and hundreds of others), and Jersey-bred drummer Harvey Mason (George Benson, Herbie Hancock) in the Billboard-topping band whose road-tested recipe for live-venue success has “continued to explore the limitless dimensions and permutations of jazz while at the same time appealing to a broad mainstream audience.”
Tickets for Thursday’s 8 pm show ($30 – $79) can be reserved right here.