Spero’s ambition is powerfully manifested in his new band SPIRIT FINGERS (formerly known as Polyrhythmic), a dynamic ensemble of uber-talented young musicians whose energy, passion and innovative approach stake out exciting new territory for exploratory music on their eponymous debut album due out March 16, 2018 on Shanachie Entertainment. As a pianist, and bandleader, Spero has explored various genres including jazz, hip-hop, modern classical music and pop, he exhibits the tenacious pursuit and commitment to excellence that separate the journeymen from the pioneers. “But I’m obsessed with seeking I’m always going through Spotify and looking for artists that I think are putting out great music. I am often transcribing, breaking apart, and analyzing music to understand what makes it effective. There is so much music out right now. I’m trying to create music.”
Still prone to practicing eight hours a day, even while on demanding tours with pop sensation Halsey, with whom he’s worked with since 2015, Spero even built his own recording studio in Glendale, Calif., which is like a sanctuary where his artistry can germinate at moment’s notice. “If I have free time, I’ll spend it either by listening to music or writing music or studying music – transcribing, practicing or building my studio,” Spero says. “I’m actually living in it at the moment,” he continues. “There is nothing more satisfying to me than sleeping next to my piano, so most waking moments can be spent on the creative process.”
Much of Spero’s blistering artistry, powered by his obsession to create great music, energizes his intrepid new , SPIRIT FINGERS. The 12-song disc showcases Spero leading his superb ensemble that includes guitarist Dario Chiazzolino, bassist Hadrien Feraud and drummer Mike Mitchell as they concoct exploratory and evocative soundscapes that often combine the muscular virtuosity and rhythmic intricacies associated with the best of ’70s jazz fusion (think George Duke, Mahavishnu Orchestra, Return to Forever, and Weather Report) with some of today’s pop and hip-hop sensibilities (think The Weeknd, , ).
SPIRIT FINGERS rose out of a tumultuous period in Spero’s life, during the first tour with Halsey. In addition to coming to terms with the end of a romantic relationship and being exhausted from touring, his creative spirit grew restless while performing pop music night after night. “Remember, when you were young and you rebelled against your parents but you still loved them? And you continue to be a part of them?” Spero ponders before expressing respect and gratitude to Halsey. “I love the music. But I also pushed against it because The pop-music aesthetic is popular because it’s relatable and beautiful. There are elements like the groove and the beat. I toured with the Weeknd and watched the show every night. also frustrated with .”
“(The making of SPIRIT FINGERS) was a diversion or a rebellion against what I was experiencing,” Spero continues. “Because of that, the music is very complicated. I decided to overlap time signatures, and write melodies and chords that navigated the new jagged rhythmic landscape. I ended up with a sound that hits you from different angles and takes you on an exciting journey with all these different twists and turns.”
Spero points out, though, that he didn’t completely jettison pop influences as he mentions presence of elongated backbeats that he heard in the Weeknd’s music. “Looking back, I also hear similarities between my music and some pop songs, like certain chord progressions and melodic tendencies,” Spero says. “But I took those ideas and twisted them, weaved and broke them apart Then I put them back together in the the sort of Frankenstein you hear at the end of ‘You.’ There’s a simple chord progression throughout that whole song; it’s the same progression used in a million other pop songs; but at the end of ‘you,’ it twists it apart, changes keys, flips it on its head, modulates through chromatic patterns, but all with a path and end point. It is the same base idea, but reaching for something further.”
After each show during the Halsey tour, Spero returned to the bus where he composed the material for SPIRIT FINGERS. He his 88-key instrument in the bay of the touring bus so he could practice on the road. “The tour was in the fall of 2015. I would take out my keyboard when the bus was parked at night, run an extension cord from inside the bus to outside where I wouldn’t bother anyone, and practice for hours,” he recalls.
Spero initially thought that the music he was composing was all for his personal gratification. Because of the complexities of the music, he wasn’t even sure if the music could actually be played. Eventually he tried out the music with several musicians in Chicago. “And that’s when [my manager] Mark Cavanagh pulled me to the side and said, ‘Man, you have to actually do this.’
Music came early into Spero’s life while growing up right outside of Chicago in Highland Park, Illinois. Both of his parents – Sally and Peter Spero – are professional musicians; his mother plays classical piano, while his father is a pianist, producer and composer. Greg recalls starting to play the piano when he was 3-years-old. Soon he started trying to mimic the compositions he father would write before trying to write his own tunes. The jazz bug bit Spero during his high school years, playing in school jazz band.
But as committed to music as Spero was a teenager, he was still torn in terms of which professional path he should pursue. He also exhibited gifts for web design and computer programming. Before graduating from high school, he divided his college aspirations between computer science and music schools. The latter won. Spero enrolled at the University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign and earned a degree in Music Composition and Jazz Performance. “That’s where my obsession with music really started,” Spero remembers. “That’s where people told me that I had to practice as much as I can. I started practicing eight-hour days. I started composing melodies that were in my head; I started writing for concert band, orchestras, and wind ensembles. I studied contemporary classical music.”
At the University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign, Spero also combined his computer science expertise with his music ingenuity by designing virtual instruments that tracked a performer’s motion, and created sound based on their movements in space. During his freshmen year, Spero met famed keyboardist and composer Robert Irving III – best known for his work as music director for nine years with Miles Davis in the mid-’80s – at a Self-Employment in the Arts conference.
“[Robert] gave a talk. I was very inspired by what he was saying. After the talk, we started talking about music,” Spero recalls. “We had a really cool connection from the beginning. He’s a very spiritual, introspective, meditative character. He took me under his wing. But the majority of his mentorship didn’t involve us sitting at the piano. It was about life.”
Another Miles alumni – Herbie Hancock – also took Spero under his wing. The two met in Spero’s hometown at the Ravinia Festival. Very similar to Irving, Hancock’s mentorship emphasized more life guidance. Hancock introduced Spero to the Buddhist practice of Nichiren Daishonin about nine years ago. “Some of the most important things I learned from Herbie and Buddhism is how to clear away a lot of the transient things from my mind and in my life to access that which is deeper. To do so, you can’t have your mind cluttered with all the shit involving daily life. Most of that stuff is transient and less important than that which is deeper and within. When we are creating incredible music, we are accessing that which is deeper. He taught me how to change my living habits, and most importantly, how I relate to other people,” Spero says.
In addition to two music titans and playing in the Buddy Rich Big Band, Spero worked with some of Chicago’s brightest talents such as drummer Makaya McCraven, saxophonist Frank Catalano, and trumpeters Marquis Hill and Corey Wilkes. At age 27 though, Spero decided he needed to move from Chicago to Los Angeles to expand his artistry. “I decided that I needed to be around a more saturated scene that had more stuff already built into it,” Spero explains. “There are incredible people in Chicago. But there’s not a ton of support, at least not for me. To make something happen in Chicago, you have to build it brick by brick. Oftentimes, there’s nothing to join onto. I decided that I needed more education in what it means to be in this world of entertainment, and I needed to play in something that can become bigger and reach more people than just the jazz community.”
Spero’s arrival to Los Angeles happened around the same time that the West Coast Get Down scene, which included saxophonist Kamasi Washington, pianist Cameron Graves and bassist Thundercat, was beginning to thrive. “I would go and play with them at Piano Bar, where the scene was thriving at the time,” Spero recalls while also mentioning his work with hip-hop artists such as Ski Beatz, Shock G., Murs and Curren$y. The move also afforded Spero opportunities to score music for movie and theater productions.
At a time when a new generation of musicians are re-defining the nature of jazz, SPIRIT FINGERS at the vanguard. “I’ve been seeking for a long time, developing and honing in what I believe is pointed in the direction of great musicThis is the first time I feel we have breached the surface of that which can stand the test of time, and that which I am excited to hear. I’ve finally made something that I would re-listen to myself; and I find most things not worth a second listen. This album reflects a myriad of emotions and aspects of my existence during a tumultuous period of life, and is the first example I’ve found of the tap into that well of feeling that reflects who I am on a deep and honest level
For more visit: Spirit Fingers