Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Gabriel Espinosa Songs of Bacharach and Manzanero

Gabriel Espinosa
Songs of Bacharach and Manzanero
Zoho Music

Growing up as a youth in Merida, in the Yucatan, Mexico, bassist, composer and arranger Gabriel Espinosa, first was exposed to the music of American composer Burt Bacharach and Mexican composer Armando Manzanero in the mid-60's when both came to prominence in their respective countries. Growing up at that time he was member of a band that played both Beatles songs and bossa novas and at the time also getting introduced to jazz. Hearing both Bacharach and Manzanero at that time affected him greatly as they both "wrote beautiful, highly memorable melodies with sophisticated harmonies … ." Espinosa, in fact, worked with Manzanero in the mid-90s helping produce two albums by him.

Exploring common ground between the two, and getting to fulfill his desire to do a vocal album with his favorite songs by the two, he selected five songs from each, and invited the wonderful Tierney Sutton to sing the five Bacharach numbers while he handled five from Manzanero. Among those accompanying Espinosa, a Professor of Jazz Studies at Central College in Pella, Iowa, are pianist Misha Tsiganov, drummer Mauricio Zottarelli, trumpeter Jim Seeley and chromatic harmonica virtuoso Hendrik Meurkens, who he has collaborated with as co-leader on various projects. Espinosa plays bass on three tracks, "Adoro," "Raindrops Keep Fallin’ on My Head," and "Cuando Estoy Contingo," while his arranger’s touch is prevalent throughout. Songs from Bacharach and Manzanero. Joe Martin plays upright bass on three selections while Gustavo Amarante plays electric bass on four.

Espinosa's arrangements and leadership provide the unifying thread of the music which alternates between his Spanish vocals of Manzanero' songs and Sutton's English renditions of the Bacharach songs that will be much more familiar to most listeners. While Sutton has established herself as among the leading jazz vocalists of today, and has dueted with Espinosa before, this is his first album where he has presented himself as a vocalist and ably acquits himself throughout as on the driving rendition "Adoro" as well as "Come Yo Te Aime," with Meurkens contributing his wonderful harmonica here as well as on the poignant "Esta Tarde VI Llover." The most familiar Manzanero song is "Somos Novios" which will be familiar to Americans as "It's Impossible." Espinosa's romanticism is complemented by the warmth of Seeley's flugelhorn.

The Bacharach numbers should be familiar to most listeners. The Carpenters' classic "(They Long To Be) Close To You" opens with a dreamy romanticism before segueing into a lively samba groove with Itai Kriss contributes lovely flute, while "The Look Of Love" is rendered as a bossa nova with Sutton's soft vocal aided by Misha Tsiganov's electric piano and Seeley's melodic trumpet. Sutton provides a restrained "What The World Needs Now," backed by just a trio, with Zottarelli using brushes and Tsiganov's accompaniment a display of restraint and eloquence. Meurkens harmonica contributes to Sutton's melancholic take on "Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head," as well as her wistful interpretation of "Alfie."

As Bill Milkowski observes in his liner notes, "Espinosa puts his own unique spin on these ten classics with subtle reharmonizations to inject new colors along with new intros, interludes and rhythmic twists that draw on his background in bossa nova, samba and jazz." With the vocals of him and Sutton's, and the fresh arrangements of these songs, one has a delightful album of vocal jazz, where the romance and melody lingers on long after one has finished listening.

I received my review copy from a publicist. Here is Hendrik Meurkens and Gabriel Espinosa in performance.

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