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Music Review: Gabriel Espinosa – From Yucatan To Rio

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I've been a fan of Latin jazz for years, and I've noticed that Brazilian music seems to be the Big Dog. Which is not to say that there aren't plenty of other pooches in the pack, just that they seem to always be trotting along in the shadow of the alpha dog. But even though that might be how things work in the canine world, most music lovers would like to at least have the opportunity to sample a variety of sounds.

If so, a smart move might be to produce an album that blends several styles of Latin jazz. And if you wanted to appeal to an even broader audience, you might then include some traditional jazz influences, along with a few vocals and some other surprises. If you did all that, the result might resemble the new album from Mexican bass-guitarist Gabriel Espinosa, From Yucatan To Rio, now out on the Zoho label.

Espinosa, who has more than a decade of service as the Director of Jazz Studies at Central College, has the right kind of background to combine a number of influences. While growing up in Mexico he often enjoyed the Brazilian sound that was everywhere in those days, and in later years he has often been involved in traditional jazz performances and recordings.

For his debut as a leader he wisely leans on a number of solid musicians, including Brazilian masters like trumpet wiz Claudio Roditi and pianist Helio Alves. But on an album that's all about diversity, Espinosa is also assisted by such artists as Swiss saxophonist George Robert along with several vocalists from the New York Voices. Three vocalists of this singing group start off the first track, Jobim's Brazilian standard, "Agua de Beber," which is one of the best here and is an enjoyable variation on the song.

My favorite is probably "Azul y Negro," which allows trumpeter Roditi and saxman Robert to turn in some good licks, but I also appreciate "Nuevos Horizontes." The latter is something a little more reflective of Espinosa's Mexican heritage, a jarana rhythm piece that features some nice work by all of the above artists plus a special guest, clarinetist Anat Cohen. Further underscoring the wide variety throughout the album is the inclusion of songs like the oddly-paced "Klavier Latino," which bears a touch of Bach (yes, you read that right) and vocalist Alison Wedding performing her own song, the sad "We've Come Undone."

There are certainly some good listens among these ten tracks, and the album is well worth consideration by Latin jazz lovers. Espinosa perhaps tries to cover a few too many bases with this debut, but the music is mostly first-class and that's the bottom line. I'm looking forward to his next effort.

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