Mexican-born bassist/composer Gabriel Espinosa has spent the past 13 years as director of jazz studies at Central College in Pella, Iowa. With a fresh batch of Brazilian-flavored compositions and arrangements, the Yucatan native organized an all-star session in the fall of 2008 to produce the aptly titled From Yucatan to Rio. The disc features an impressive cast of world-class musicians including Romero Lubambo (guitar), Helio Alves (piano), Claudio Roditi (trumpet), Anat Cohen (clarinet), George Robert (alto saxophone) and Antonio Sanchez (drums).
The disc settles into a swaying groove with Espinosa's arrangement of Antonio Carlos Jobim's "Agua de Beber." The popular Brazilian melody is handled by vocalists Darmon Meader and Kim Nazarian, of the New York Voices, and Alison Wedding, an old friend of Espinosa. Roditi solos with fluency here as well as on the pop-sounding "Klavier Latino," an Espinosa composition with lyrical wordless vocalizing and an inspired alto solo by Robert.
Bossa nova and cha-cha-cha intersect on Espinosa's romantic "LP 07" with a spirited, improvised back-and-forth between Roditi and Robert. Vocalist Wedding leads the way on her own composition "We've Come Undone," featuring pondering lyrics and an especially lush solo from pianist Alvez. Espinosa's energetic 6/8 Latin romp, "Nuevos Horizontes," features crisp, punctuated drumming from Sanchez and a well-developed clarinet solo from Cohen. An idyllic tropical scene is portrayed on a pair of Espinosa originals: the tranquil bossa "Morning Breeze" and the light samba "Azul y Negro."
Nylon-string guitarist Lubambo solos vibrantly on "Remain," a samba composed by Wedding that features the vocalist scatting gleefully. Robert and Roditi take control of the funky "Maria" with an inspired trading of ideas. The up-tempo "Huracan" is propelled by drummer Adriano Santos and Espinosa, whose electric bass playing acts as a subtle yet flawless foundation throughout. The high-flying closer finds Alves in top form.
From Yucatan to Rio is full of memorable themes, vibrant solos and infectious grooves. Espinosa proves himself a talent destined for greater recognition.
Track Listing: Agua de Beber; Klavier Latino; LP 07; We've Come Undone; Nuevos Horizontes; Morning Breeze; Azul Y Negro; Remain; Maria; Huracan.
I was first exposed to jazz while working overseas in Africa as a Peace Corps Volunteer. I would listen to the Voice of America on the radio and they had a nightly jazz program on at 10:00pm. I learned a lot about jazz listening to this program. I also had a friend who listened to real jazz by artists like Charles Mingus, Eric Dolphy and Archie Shepp. On my way home from Africa I landed in New York and had the opportunity to see the George Adams/Don Pullen quartet at the Village Vanguard as well as Kenny Barron and Ron Carter at another club, and was in heaven.