Greg Spero ‘Acoustic’ 180g Vinyl (SoundScapes Media Group) 4/5

Originally recorded in 2011, keyboardist/composer Greg Spero’s “Acoustic” album has now been released on audiophile 180g vinyl. Sourced from the original master tapes, this trio album featuring Makaya McCraven on drums and Matt Ulrey on upright bass is a fine example of where Spero was, musically speaking, ten years ago. And it stands the test of time extremely well.

Since then, the pianist has been a very busy man. In 2014 Spero began performing with pop artist Halsey. He designed and performed all the synthesiser and keyboard parts for the live shows. In 2018, performing live with Halsey on Saturday Night Live, Spero announced that this was his final gig with the band, leaving to pursue projects with his own group Spirit Fingers, along with curating a video series called Tiny Room, out of his Los Angeles studio. Although predominantly a jazz musician, his varied skills and interests in other styles and genres of music have also led him to record with artists such as Ski Beatz, Shock G, and American rapper Mars. Last year he founded a start-up company called Weebid, which is a crowdfunded marketplace for artists to interact with their fans.

So, what of the “Acoustic” Greg Spero then? Well, it’s rather good actually. McCraven’s drumming and Ulrey’s bass act as the perfect foil for Spero’s often lyrical, melodic musings. The trio are extremely tight, playing intuitively with depth, feel, and pinpoint precision. There’s a lovely vibe to this album, with all three musicians adding to the quality with their inventive, stylish playing.

As a pointer, for listeners not already familiar with Spero’s music, to my ears anyway, I’d say it’s a touch reminiscent of early Esbjörn Svensson Trio recordings, with hints of Keith Jarrett, Chick Corea and Michel Petrucciani thrown in for good measure. There’s rarely a dull moment, and yet the album also benefits from Spero’s skill in hearing and playing a simple melody with a deft touch and an inquisitively, exploratory, playful ear.

The album opener “Hills” has a lyrically romantic edge to it. It lifts me up on a spirited wave of euphoria, dancing with delight. “Latin Fusion Blues” does what it says on the tin, with more than a degree of panache. Whereas most of this album is pretty much what one might expect from a thrilling piano-led trio, the two short pieces “Interlude One” and “Interlude Two”, are interesting in that they take a more modern approach, perhaps suggesting things to come in the years ahead from Spero. “Flow” is a beautiful piece of music. The trio take their time, a spacious, elegant theme running through the first half of the tune. The trio’s superlative interplay and Spero’s energetic soling then take the track to someplace else altogether. Marvellous stuff. The sublime “Letting It Go” follows, thoughtful and contemplative, gradually building in strength of purpose. The final track “Universe” flows with its own course of history, adventurous and ultimately uplifting.

“Acoustic” is a very engaging and rewarding album from Greg Spero. Passionate, warm, and beguiling, its rich musical colours and textures could easily make for a suitably Autumnal soundtrack to our lives.

Acoustic can be sourced from the SoundScapes’ website here

Mike Gates