REVIEW: Gust Spenos Quartet – Swing Theory

It’s pretty obvious that saxophonist Gust Spenos developed the idea for his group’s debut album, Swing Theory, with his tongue firmly lodged in his cheek. He’s proposing a quasi-scientific explanation of swing music, and as part of the fun has likened it to the string theory in physics. He’s even linked the two theories on the cover art, which cleverly features a classroom full of students that include everyone from Einstein and Hawking to Goodman and Ellington.

Cute idea, but none of that would matter if the music on the album didn’t make the grade, and I’m happy to report that it’s an outstanding collection, filled with the kind of music I like. Spenos, who is a neurologist in his other life, is nonetheless an accomplished tenor saxophonist. The other members of his quartet, which consists of pianist Marvin Chandler, bassist Frank Smith, and drummer Kenny Phelps, are all solid instrumentalists too.

Additionally, the quartet is joined by celebrated trombonist Wycliff Gordon and the talented Eric Schneider on alto sax and clarinet, which helps the group provide a fuller, big-group sound. And finally, Spenos recruited veteran jazz baritone vocalist Everett Greene for some added value on a couple of tracks.

Greene has a rich, deep voice and those two pieces, “The Nature Of Love,” and “Looking For Someplace To Be,” are a nice change from the other ten tracks included, but for me the strength of the album lies in the instrumentals. And as you might guess for an album of swing music, those selections are are mostly familiar jazz standards.

Some of the best include those with extended solos from Spenos’  tenor and Schneider on alto and clarinet, including “Secret Love,” an old song usually heard as a vocal, and the dependable old standard, Irving Berlin’s “Cheek To Cheek.” Meanwhile, Gordon shows off both his trombone and his scat singing on Dizzy Gillispie’s “Ow.”

Some tunes are probably not a surprise in a collection like this; for example “Body And Soul,” but it’s a good listen too, with Schneider shining, and there are a few that might be a little less expected. Good examples are “Tangerine,” and my favorite on the album, “Mountain Greenery,” which spotlights Spenos.

It’s obvious that the musicians love what they’re doing, and the result is something that most listeners will find enjoyable too. It’s certainly my kind of music, and if you’ll give it a chance you might find that it’s yours too.

Clips available here.

Buy the album.

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