Gabriel Espinosa

From Yucatan to Rio

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There are many in the mainstream jazz community who mix in Brazilian music with their own sound, and it is generally a pleasant combination. Five-string electric bass guitarist Gabriel Espinosa, born in Mexico, is so heavily influenced by modern jazz that it plays a central role in this recording of originals that taps samba and bossa nova sources. Yet the distinctive sound of Rio is much more dominant from a rhythmic standpoint, even though the melodies and instrumental passages come from the core of neo-bop. With upfront help from veteran Brazilian trumpeter Claudio Roditi and Swiss-born alto saxophonist George Robert, the breezy melodies heard here are also faithful to a modern jazz dialect. Guitarist Romero Lubambo and vocalist Alison Wedding add more tropical South American elements, but it is the incredible pianist Helio Alves who bonds the two disciplines together in solidarity of new and old traditions. Alves is a performer deserving much wider recognition, and as you listen to his minimalist sound buoying the horns on the eventual samba "Klavier Latino," his lovely outpourings during the airy "Morning Breeze," or his more expansive work during the sharp-edged "Huracan," you realize he can tackle almost any melodic or rhythmic challenge. Lubambo is featured on "Maria" as his distinctive acoustic guitar drive the passions of the group. Wedding sings pristinely in English on two of her own compositions, the bossa pop tune of separation and disappointment "We've Come Undone," and the quicker, alternative solution, "Remain." Anat Cohen guests on lead clarinet in 6/8 time for "Nuevos Horizontes" as the thorny, staccato horns reply, and members of the New York Voices Kim Nazarian and Darmon Meader chime in on the double-layered, rich take of the standard "Agua de Beber." As pretty, nice, light, and non-threatening music goes, this project from Espinosa and his revered musical friends deserves high marks as both foreground and background music, and is an interesting update to what Herb Alpert and his Brazilian bands of the '60s accomplished, with the caveat that this recording has much more jazz substance.

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