Thursday, October 30, 2014

Tom Schuman "Extremities" (1990)

Schuman's debut, mostly without Spyro alum, sets in a standard of enjoyable "GRP sound" and surprise

After a much celebrated decade, Spyro Gyra's leading keyboardist Tom Schuman gets his time to shine without fellow mate, Jay Beckenstein (well, sort of) on his 1990 GRP release. Extremities, lets Schuman go a little more freely without the tropic of marimbas and Beckenstein's brightly sax drowning out all of the spotlight. Apart from composition, most of the performance is led by Schuman and his full array of synthesizer keyboards but also acoustic piano with a flurry of results. Though his solo effort may have come out a decade too late, landing in the heart of 90's fusion, the result isn't muted, more than a trumpet or two.

As the trend of 1990 goes on, GRP came to stick with a safe formula for its sound for the early decade: eight-to-ten tracks, a cover (or two), airy voice-imitating synth (a la Lyle Mays), maybe a vocal and, yes, a mute trumpet. Mute trumpets and jazz-pop came trending and buzzing on more than a few releases and it's here as well, by way of harolded composer and session player Jon Faddis (see: Clint Eastwood's trumpet player). That doesn't mean Extremities doesn't woo and surprise around some bends...

On board is a strong band: always exciting Dave Weckl on drums, longtime Spyro guitarist Steve Love on guitars, and the everywhere man Will Lee on bass, Schuman has a few surprises including a cameo from Jay Beckenstein on soprano sax as well. He guests on only one cut here, a cover of the soul classic Loving You, which by this time has been covered umpteenth times over, is given a fully syrupy sax treatment that leaves this as the album's skipper.

Palisades Parkway dazzles on the album with an instant hook for the radio, though losing focus a bit within, follows with funky bass and guitar and one of two tracks Steve Love breaks out a bluesy electric sound on Front Seat Reservation.

Crystal Lane and its use of sequenced drum machines, even at this time is sounding dated and exhausted but still shows off more of Schuman's keyboarding. Taking a break from the upbeat omnibus is Mood Swing, a campy, creeping tune with Faddis on, yes, a mute trumpet in the intro.

Skywriter is of the album's more interesting: a clash of contemporary sting of synths over a traditional jazz trio of brushing drums, thick upright bass and a solid horn from Bob Berg delivering a sharp solo on his tenor.  

To B.E. pays tribute to Bill Evans with a heartfelt acoustic trio -- no synthesizers, no horns here.

Extremities greatest success is Schuman's array of fresh synthesizers that defined 1990's fusion sound (that, yes, aficionados dismiss as light jazz in “G”, Kenny G, that is) and a unique sound GRP favored in its catalog, a sound akin to that of Ricky Peterson around this time. While this was Schuman's only stint on GRP and an album is mostly overlooked and somewhat obscure today was a strong effort coming off the heels of the commercially successful Spyro Gyra and it's 14th release Fast Forward.


NOTABLE TRACKS: Palisades Parkway, Skywriter, Front Seat Reservation
COULD'VE DONE WITHOUT “Loving You” -- off-the-chart cheese.

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