Greg Spero + Spirit Fingers – Peace
(Ropeadope. Review by Adam Sieff)
With so much music constantly being released it’s impossible to keep up with everything that’s new, let alone hear but a fraction of it in these ‘blink and you’ve missed it’ times. This album came out three months ago but it only came to my attention last weekend.
Spirit Fingers is a quartet led by Greg Spero, a 35 year-old pianist from the American midwest who has composed for TV, film and theatre, toured with the Miles Electric Band and pop artist Halsey, recorded with hiphoppers Ski Beatz and Shock G. He released a handful of albums as a leader before forming Spirit Fingers five years ago. Together with his band members, bassist Max Gerl, drummer Mike Mitchell and guitarist Dario Chiazzolino, they play jazz that captures the storming jazz rock fusion of the early seventies alongside up to the minute modern grooves and contemporary styles. Their new album Peace was co-produced by Spero and drummer/producer Makaya McCraven, the Chicago-based son of drummer Steve McCraven who was also in the chair for their 2018 debut, and is involved in so many new projects of interest. It’s a great-sounding album, recorded at Spero’s Tiny Room Studios in Los Angeles, and mixed by him as well.
Spero’s writing is strong and melodic and the band’s arrangements leave plenty of space for improvisation but never lose their footing in the groove. To these ears, this music sounds totally fresh yet familiar at the same time, a number of the tracks bring back the rush I felt on first hearing Billy Cobham’s Quadrant 4 or Return To Forever’s Vulcan Worlds. Drummer Mike Mitchell (aka Blaque Dynamite) is an absolute powerhouse, his intro and deep groove on Spirit Food is just phenomenal. His partnership with the fleet fingered bassist Max Gerl is rock-solid. I was extremely also impressed by guitarist Dario Chiazzolino, who has dazzling technique and, like Spero, plays with both power and taste.
What helps the album work as well as it does is the way the thirteen tracks are sequenced with the mix of different styles, track lengths and guest musicians keeping everything fresh. There are two fine saxophonists: Braxton Cook takes flight on Spirit Food and Greg Ward is in spiritual mode on Cokes With Greg. Steel pannist Jonathan Scales plays a furious solo over a terrifyingly fast tempo on ‘Lamella’, while bassist Bubby Lewis plays a nimble cameo on the bitesize Nolo (Yeslo).
The real surprise amongst all this powerful instrumental music are the four songs featuring rising star vocalist Judi Jackson. She’s utterly wonderful and her poignant performance on Goodbye is gorgeous, and I loved her blues swing and scatting on London Blues. She’s going to be a major star.
Don’t let this one get away like I almost did. Five big stars.