Once in a great while, an indie jazz artist jumps in the fray from seemingly out of the blue that captures our ears, fires up our hearts and snags our soul from the first few notes. That’s what happened the minute I heard “Smarbar,” the dazzling, free-swinging, sax and trumpet intensive opening track on Horns, drummer Mike Spinrad’s first recording since a piano trio project in 2001.
So who is this cat and where has he been all our lives as jazz enthusiasts? His bio tells us he’s got five kids (“Smarbar” is an acronym of their names!), and with a family to support, he’s gigged at night in the Bay Area while earning his living as a marketing pro, counselor and, for the past fifteen years, a teacher at San Marin High School. Suffice to say, he’s the hippest, groovin’est history, psychology, economics etc. instructor you’ll ever learn from. Working with tenor saxophonist and flutist Guido Fazio’s crisp, energetic horn arrangements, Spinrad creates a vibrant big band sound with only three woodwind players – Fazio, trumpeter and flugelhornist Richard Conway and baritone saxman Larry Stewart.
Pianist and organist Don Turney and four different bassists are the foundational MVPs. As a composer, the drummer finds melodically and harmonically imaginative ways to pay homage to influential figures (not just humans) in his life, including his parents (the vintage boogaloo-flavored “Betty ‘n Hy,”), his father “Chaim” (who gets a speed-bop shout out), his dog (the sweetly sentimental ballad “Shelia”), a fun-spirited Cuban co-worker (who inspires the quick-witted rumba magic on “Raul”), his girlfriend (another boppy delight, “Brooke,” her middle name) and his grandfather (the sensually funky, flute driven “Manny.”
One can imagine all these folks (and the beloved pooch) in the audience, feeling honored by the brilliance that Spinrad and his energetic band bring forth in their names. A stylistically wide-ranging delight from start to finish, Horns will have you hoping for more Spinrad extracurricular musical activity in the future!