The alluring melodies, engaging harmonies and insinuating rhythms of Brazil permeate this very pleasing ZOHO debut by Mexico-born bassist-composer-arranger Gabriel Espinosa. And yet, lurking beneath the soothing surface of these buoyant tunes is a profound depth of real-deal jazz expression presented by an international all-star cast of world class players and improvisers including Brazilian trumpeter Claudio Roditi, Swiss alto sax burner George Robert, Brazilian pianist Helio Alves, Brazilian guitarist Romero Lubambo, Israeli clarinetist Anat Cohen, Brazilian drummer Adriano Santos, Mexico-born drumming sensation Antonio Sanchez, Brazilian percussion player Jacinto Macedo, vocalists Darmon Meader and Kim Nazarian of the New York Voices and singer-composer Alison Wedding.
A native of Merida, the capital of the Mexican state of Yucatan, Espinosa grew up absorbing the sounds of the bossa nova movement that swept the United States and Mexico in the early 1960s. “I remember being 14 years old, listening to those great Brazilian players who would come through Merida on their tours. And I was like, Wow! That music is so interesting, so nice. I really fell in love with it as a teenager and since then I’ve really been close to that kind of music.”
A graduate of Central College in Pella, Iowa, Espinosa attended the Berklee College of Music in Boston, where he received a diploma in arranging. He later received his masters degree in jazz studies in 1995 at the University of North Texas, and the following year came full circle back to Central College, where he has been director of Jazz Studies for the past 13 years. Throughout his career as an educator and player (he’s recorded three CDs since 2000 with the Latin band Ashanti), Espinosa has put a premium on being a composer-arranger rather than showcasing his own bass chops. “There’s no such a thing like that here,” he laughs about the prospect of putting out a “bass hero” project. Indeed, the music heard on From Yucatan to Rio is purely about the music the beautiful blend between the horns, the affecting, lyrical quality heard on each tune. “I see myself more like a composer and an arranger than a soloist,” Espinosa continues. “I was always more in love with writing music and arranging the music.”