Bassist Gabriel Espinosa's From Yucatan to Rio (Zoho Music, 2009) works the abundant musical territory found in Latin rhythms and harmony, creating sounds that are at once fresh while still carrying a tinge of bossa and '60s sounds.
Working with an A-list crew that includes Claudio Roditi on trumpet, Anat Cohen on clarinet (for "Nuevos Horizontes"), and drummer Antonio Sanchez on several cuts, Espinosa gets terrific treatments of his compositions.
Espinosa's regular gig is with the Iowa-based Ashanti Latin and Jazz Band, for which he also pens many tunes. The practice gives him a solid foundation for crafting his smooth, neo-Brazilian sound.
As a bassist, Espinosa stays in the background, instead letting his featured performers take solo turns.
From Yucatan to Rio opens with "Agua De Beber," penned by Antonio Carlos Jobim, with lyrics by Vinicius De Moraes translated to English by Norman Gimbel. Espinosa arranges the tune with close harmoniesperformed by Kim Nazarian, Darmon Meader, Alison Wedding and himselfrecalling a Brasil '66 sound, before Roditi takes a brilliant solo that raises the tune to another level.
Espinosa has a real ear for melody, demonstrated by "Klavier Latino." A memorable melody is played on horns, with a vocal harmony. Alternating solos fill out the track, highlighted by Helio Alves' piano solo and a hard-bopping sax solo by George Robert. It's possibly the strongest track on the CD, and is certain to work its way onto many playlists.
Strong melodies highlight others tracks, as well"Maria" and "Azul Y Negro" also have the kind of easy-to-whistle melodies seldom heard these days. But here, again, intelligent solos add to the compositions.
Such change-ups mark Espinosa's compositions, with familiar, smooth neo-Bossa melodies contrasting with solos that lean towards mainstream or hard-bop jazz. The combination works well, keeping the music from becoming too saccharin.
Two tracks on the release feel weaker, however. Both were written by Alison Wedding, and feel flat next to Espinosa's fine work. "We've Come Undone" and "Remain" also both feature Wedding's sultry vocals, but the melodies are simply not as strong as the other tracks. The solos come to the rescue, however, with Alves again adding the right touch on piano for "Undone," and Roditi and guitarist Romero Lubambo on "Remain," but Wedding seems to have no place to go when she returns and the songs unwind towards their conclusions. Wedding also does a nice scat closing for "Remain," but her compositional work is just not at the same level as Espinosa's.
Gabriel Espinosa has done himself well on his debut solo releasethe music is light, but not lightweight, and very memorable.
Agua De Beber; Klavier Latino; LP 07; We've Come Undone; Nuevos Horizontes; Morning Breeze; Azul Y Negro; Remain; Maria; Huracan.