The journey from Yucatan to Rio was a really smooth one. It was brimful with samba and bossa nova, with a little baroque thrown in probably the happy memory of a childhood resplendent withy the music of Bach and Vivaldi. And there is plenty of everything in evidence on the record that Gabriel Espinosa has produced to commemorate his spirit journey from the place of his birth to the place he dreams of harmoniously.
From Yucatan to Rio is a mellifluous musical expedition led by this mature bassist, who crafts his music with utmost confidence and grace, surrounded by a galaxy of stellar acolytes. And they sparkle – each bringing a glow to this record teeming with musical gems. Claudio Roditi seems to occupy a pivotal place here, and bassist Espinosa has created room for the trumpet and flugelhorn player to not only solo with fluidity, but also bond tight with alto saxophonist, George Robert (on most songs) as well as with clarinetist, Anat Cohen on “Nuevos Horizontes.”
Bassists are rather rare as bandleaders and – baring a few exceptions – they have chosen to drop their bull-violins in favor another instrument (a piano perhaps?) to leading from the front of the ensemble. Often this necessitated by the harmonic position that a bassist is required to hold in the lower end of the harmonic spectrum. Of course Mingus is the most prominent exception that comes to mind, although he also soloed sometimes. Unusually, Espinosa chooses not to solo, but does yeoman work in the depths of the lower registers. His ostinato passage on his arrangement of Jobim’s “Agua de Beber” is superb.
Espinosa also creates special room for his percussionists – shared by Antonio Sanchez and Adriano Santos, each on five of the tracks, with Dende playing everything that the drummers do not. Antonio Sanchez shows why he is a percussionist of choice for so much of a cross-section of session work today. His sensibility as a colorist knows no boundaries and when he crosses over – with a timeless solo in a samba, the effect is stunning. On “Klavier Latino,” Sanchez displays a majestic command over shading and accents as he romps ahead and behind the song’s inner tempo, finally breaking out with a clatter and rumble into a sensational solo supported by voices and ensemble.
Adriano Santos continues the proud tradition for men like Milton Banana, Wilson Dos Neves and Paulo Braga and his backbeat on Jobim’s “Agua de Beber” is flawless and rolls off the skins with alacrity. This song also features a fine vocal interpretation by the fabulous New York Voices – Darmon Meader and Kim Nazarian. Pianist, Helio Alves another bright Brasilian voice on the New York scene steps out – as he does several times throughout the record trading licks with the indefatigable Romero Lubambo as well as Roditi and Robert – on “LP 07” an unforgettable travelogue.
Anat Cohen lights up the crepuscular, “Nuevos Horizontes” with a warm, woody glissandos as she breaks out of the music with a solo that melts like butter dappling the song with gold. Alison Wedding appears to be part of the star power on this record as well. Not only is her writing fascinating, as evidenced on “We’ve Come Undone” and “Remain” but her interpretations remain some of the high points of the record as well. Her phrasing is svelte as she leaps across the melody in heart-stopping breaths.
Espinosa, it appears here, is showcasing not his virtuoso side, but his composing ability and his fabulous arrangements. In this he appears to be quite simply a wonderful fit for the emotive music of Brasil and this is more than merely a superficial feeling. The depth of emotion of his music is truly touching and that is why the Brasilian theme works even though it is a relatively sedate rhythmic excursion.
Tracks: Agua De Beber; Klavier Latino; LP 07; We’ve Come Undone; Nuevos Horizontes; Morning Breeze; Azul Y Negro; Remain; Maria; Huracan.