Reviews

Gabriel Espinosa

Midwest Record - Sept. 28, 2016

GABRIEL ESPINOSA/Songs of Bacharach & Manzanero: A tasty little hybrid of a record, the only constants here are the drummer and the piano chair as the singer mixes five romantic 60s ballads sprung from his native Yucatan with five romantic 60s ballads by Burt Bacharach sung by Tierney Sutton. The two mainstay cats hold it all together while voices and players drift in and out of the mix making this feel like the kind of presentation piece you'd pick up as you left a cabaret after a smooth night's worth of entertainment. Everyone is cooking from the heart and the set fires on all cylinders. Check it out.

CHRIS SPECTOR, Editor and Publisher

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Deep Roots - Sept. 24, 2016

A pleasing, and most unexpected, concept album is a true border crossing event featuring the songs of two countries’ most distinguished artists impeccably interpreted by some of the finest musicians representing those two countries (and others, for that matter). The man behind it all is Gabriel Espinosa on his fourth album for the ZOHO label. Born and raised in Mexico, educated in the United States (he has a Masters Degree in Jazz Studies from North Texas and has served as Director of Jazz Studies at his undergrad alma mater, Central College (in Pella, IA), Espinosa has fronted the respected Ashanti band in addition to carving out a fruitful solo career and teaming with harmonica virtuoso Hendrik Meurkens on celebrated projects such as the Celebrando CD (26 weeks on the JazzWeek charts in 2012 and hailed by JazzTimes and Downbeat, among others) and the acclaimed 2014 long player, Samba Little Samba. Meurkens is with him on this outing as well, adding his soulful chromatic harp embellishments to four tracks and for all the world summoning the spirit of the great Toots Thielemans in his tone, soothing texture and measured attack.

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All About Jazz - Dan Bilawsky - Nov. 6, 2014

Gabriel Espinosa/Hendrik Meurkens: Samba Little Samba (2014)

The hundredth release on the Zoho imprint was the aptly-titled Celebrando (Zoho Music, 2012)—the debut collaboration between Gabriel Espinosa and Hendrik Meurkens. This follow-up date, arriving a little more than two years later, is cut from the same musical cloth, though a few minor personnel changes and role adjustments give this one its own identity.

The personnel constants across both albums are pianist Misha Tsiganov, drummer Antonio Sanchez, multi-reedist Anat Cohen, and vocalist Alison Wedding.

Espinosa follows the same instrumental course set on that earlier album. His bass serves as a foundational presence again, grounding things without pushing into the spotlight. His vocals, however, are a bit more conspicuous on this date, as he gleefully glides across the title track, delivers wordless lines in tandem with Wedding, and explores the nooks of a haunted "Besame Mucho" with his guest duet partner—the incomparable Tierney Sutton.

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All About Jazz - Dan Bilawsky - Nov. 6, 2014

Gabriel Espinosa/Hendrik Meurkens: Samba Little Samba (2014)

The hundredth release on the Zoho imprint was the aptly-titled Celebrando (Zoho Music, 2012)—the debut collaboration between Gabriel Espinosa and Hendrik Meurkens. This follow-up date, arriving a little more than two years later, is cut from the same musical cloth, though a few minor personnel changes and role adjustments give this one its own identity.

The personnel constants across both albums are pianist Misha Tsiganov, drummer Antonio Sanchez, multi-reedist Anat Cohen, and vocalist Alison Wedding.

Espinosa follows the same instrumental course set on that earlier album. His bass serves as a foundational presence again, grounding things without pushing into the spotlight. His vocals, however, are a bit more conspicuous on this date, as he gleefully glides across the title track, delivers wordless lines in tandem with Wedding, and explores the nooks of a haunted "Besame Mucho" with his guest duet partner—the incomparable Tierney Sutton.

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blogcritics.org - Jack Goodstein - Oct. 30, 2014

Gabriel Espinosa and Hendrik Meurkens - 'Samba Little Samba'

Demonstrating yet once more after their initial successful collaboration on Celebrando that you don't need to be a Brazilian to have an authentic feel for Brazilian jazz, Mexican bassist Gabriel Espinosa and harmonica/vibes master Hendrik Meurkens are scheduled to release their second album Samba Little Samba on November 11, 2014.

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Latin Jazz Network - Raul da Gama - Oct. 21, 2014

Gabriel Espinosa & Hendrik Meurkens: Samba Little Samba (Zoho)

Hendrik Meurkens and Gabriel Espinosa have established a relationship that seems to allow them to make recordings as if they have known each other for years. This is a good sign. It means that Mr. Meurkens has another one of his groups to make music with. He is fast becoming a superstar of his instruments: the harmonica and the vibraphone. He has superb technical skill and expression on both of the instruments.

This partnership with the bassist Gabriel Espinosa has yielded two Zoho albums so far: Celebrando and now Samba Little Samba. Both are superb recordings. The latter is much more mature and seems to stretch further than the Latin rhythmic realm into a much wider one.

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Greater Des Moines Community Jazz Center

Oct. 19, 2014

Gabriel Espinosa inducted into the Iowa Jazz Hall of Fame!

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Jazz Week - Sept. 3, 2012

Hendrik Meurkens and Gabriel Espinosa #9 with Celebrado

Following a big gain, Celebrando breaks the top ten in Jazz Week's Jazz chart!

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JazzTimes - Jun. 27, 2012

Hendrik Meurkens / Gabriel Espinosa Celebrando (Zoho) by Philip Booth

There's something light, ariy and, well, deceptively breezy about the aptly titled Celebrando, an aluring set of Brazilian jazz compositions simmered to perfection by German-born harmonica man Hendrik Meurkens and bassist Gabriel Espinosa, a native of Mexico. An international cast of players, including clarinetist and saxophonist Anat Cohen and drummer Antonio Sanches, supports the co-leaders.

The deception (the good kind) comes in the way that the laidback, undulating grooves and the seamless blending of these instruments -- horns, strings, voice, percussion -- can belie the sturdy, precise rhythm-making and often brilliant soloing at the heart of the CD's 11 tracks. Take, for example, pianist Misha Tsiganov's 6/4 piece "Out of Reach," its melody sounded by harmonica, wordless vocals and Cohen's tenor. The latter is given space for an edgy romp before Meurkens takes over for another agile flight, followed by Tsiganov's own work-out and an open section for Sanchez.

Credit, too, goes to the session's co-leaders for opting to deploy singer Alison Wedding's voice as a hornlike instrument, beginning with the opening track, "La Esperanza," penned by Espinosa. Over a pad of vintage-sounding Fender Rhodes and bossa rhythms, Meurkens offers a stair-stepping melody the second time doubled by Wedding's wordless vocals; later, she returns for an engaging scat solo. Wedding is similarly featured on Meurkens' "Slow Breeze," and elsewhere. Cohen's dazzling clarinet work, not surprisingly, is featured on several pieces -- "Frenzelosa (Choro No. 2)," the mellow "Pa Rio" and "Maya Roots." And the title track, a festive samba, closes the disc in high spirits, largely driven by Mauricio Zottarelli's hyperactive drumming and percussion work.

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Latin Jazz Network - May 7, 2012

Hendrik Meurkens & Gabriel Espinosa with Anat Cohen & Antonio Sanchez - Celebrando by Raul da Gama

It is also appropriate that the celebrations should take place amid the invisible emotional zone of Brasil, a country so mysterious and magical that it seduces more than half the world and more with its art; certainly with its music that is now a beguiling feature of more than half the world and more. This is what makes Celebrando so timely, appropriate and poignant.

Played the way it is-with such emotion and, indeed, soul-it is hard to prevent the music from reaching the deepest parts of the soul and the mind's mind, refreshing it as would a deep tidal wave from the beaches of Rio to the exciting shuffling, stuttering rhythms of the northeast and in the Saudades of the plaintive Choro-one of which is composed by Meurkens and played with a sigh and a wail by the harmonica player in a bashful, loving dialogue with the clarinet of Anat Cohen.

Another outstanding feature of the album is the exquisite wordless vocals of Alison Wedding, whose voice seems to float above the music like a swallow that swoops in and out of the melodies as if they were gossamer waiting to be pierced. Even Espinosa, who also sings wordlessly, has a crack at a lyrical piece that he penned himself, "Maya Roots" and does a fine job of the vocals. The other master stroke is asking drummers of the stature of Antonio Sanchez and Mauricio Zottarelli to sit behind the drums.

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Downbeat -- Jul. 2012

Hendrik Meurkens / Gabriel Espinosa Celebrando by Jennifer Odell

A confluence of South American-based musical traditions, Celebrando is the brainchild of German­ born harmonica master Hendrik Meurkens and Mexican bassist Gabriel Espinosa. It's when things go slightly off course, however, that the album shines. "La Esperanza," an Espinosa original, and "Slow Breeze." penned by Meurkens, mesh blissfully, each using Alison Wedding's summery scatting as a platform off of which Meurkens launches high and winding phrases. The vibe switches to a more syncopated style for Meurkens' "Frenzelosa," which takes advantage of Anat Cohen's background playing choro rhythms. Meurkens and Cohen flit over and under their lines with a nonchalant joy. Playfulness takes over in the last few bars, as Misha Tsiganov's piano ushers the two main voices to an up-tempo close. While diverging harmonical/vocal improvisations on the melody seem to bind the material here, the harmonies on tracks like "Maya Roots." as well as, piano-forward numbers like "Pa Rio," cast the ensemble in a different and welcome light. Though creatively composed, Meurkens' tendency to repeat similar frameworks does less for the album as a whole than when new ideas are set forth.

Jazz Times -- Apr. 15, 2012

Celebrando-- Hendrik Meurkens & Gabriel Espinosa

For Zoho Music's 100th recording, the world music label brought together two of its artists for a celebration of Brazilian jazz. Joining Meurkens on harmonica and Espinosa on bass and vocals are Anat Cohen on clarinet and tenor (four tracks), Jim Seeley on trumpet and flugelhorn, Misha Tsiganov on piano and Fender Rhodes, Antonio Sanchez on drums, Mauricio Zottarelli on drums and percussion, and last but not least, Alison Wedding on vocals and Molly Blythe on background vocals. Meurkens left his vibraphone at home this time, a wise decision since the arrangements mostly emphasize the harmonies developed by wordless vocalizing in tandem with the instrumentalists, and vibes would not have worked as effectively. One thinks in this regard of the many successful encounters Toots Thielemans had with singers over the years. Wedding was previously heard extensively on Espinosa's From Yucatan to Rio CD.

The opening 'La Esperanza", a bossa nova, finds Meurkens' harmonica, Tsiganov's electric piano, and Wedding's voice combining to present Espinosa's enticing theme. Wedding has a short improv before Tsiganov's pliant solo. Wedding then scats her way assuredly once again, followed by Meurkens melodic solo and a welcome reprise. Meurkens' reflective "Slow Breeze" is inspired by guitarist Toninho Horta. Harmonica and Wedding's voice blend seamlessly and ingratiatingly. The singer then comps for Meurkens' brilliant solo. Tsiganov has a neat, concise piano spot, and then Jim Seeley's rich flugelhorn appears for the theme's recap. "Frenzelosa (Choro No. 2)" presents its composer Meurkens and Anat Cohen on clarinet in delightful, dancing rapport. Their weaving lines and individual solos are zestful and irresistible, especially when the tempo heats up at the conclusion. Meurkens describes Cohen as "a master Choro player," but he's certainly one as well.

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Des Moines Register -- Mar. 29, 2012

Celebrando! Eclectic group cuts album of Brazilian jazz by Jow Lawler

A little bit of Brazil comes to Pella tonight, by way of Mexico, Germany, Russia and Iowa.

Central College music professor Gabriel Espinosa unveils his new project with Hendrik Meurkens, called "Celebrando," a new album of Brazilian jazz. Espinosa, a Mexican-born bass player, and Meurkens, a German harmonica player, teamed with Russian pianist Misha Tsiganov for the recording. Iowa native Tim Crumley joins them on drums for the live show tonight.

"Brazilian jazz has more of an emphasis on the melody side," Espinosa said, trying to describe the style. "The songs are longer and more lyrical. It's a combination of the two worlds, jazz traditions with Brazilian style. That hybrid is so unique."

According to Meurkens, who flew in from New York Monday for the show, the rhythm is what makes Brazilian jazz special. The song structures of jazz greats like Count Bassie and Duke Ellington are absent from the form. Where traditional jazz is improv, in Brazil the music is much more of a composition.

"All these gentlemen are top-shelf, world-class musicians," Crumley said. "It's very humbling to play with them, but inspiring too. Their approaches to Brazilian jazz are all so different and individual. It's like a big soup, full of all these unique ingredients.

The lively, energetic style has no language barriers for foreign audiences to overcome. "We came to this country, the three of us (Espinosa, Meurkens and Tsiganov) because of the music," Meurkens said. "It's the great common language, I would say."

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Critical Jazz -- Mar. 8, 2012

Hendrik Meurkens / Gabriel Espinosa Celebrando Zoho 2012

Celebrando translates into "celebrating" in both Portuguese and Spanish and this aptly titled release exudes a joyous celebration on multiple fronts. The blatantly obvious celebration is that of the musicians and audiences including this critic that adore Brazilian jazz and the lasting impression made on their musical lives.

An immediate standout and one of my musical easy buttons is modern jazz and Brazilian clarinetist and saxophonist Anat Cohen whose impeccable artistry adds a rich texture to an incredibly diverse sonic color palate performed by a first call group of musicians that are easily leaders on their own as well. ... All the stars were in perfect alignment for this recording as this is as close to perfect as you can possibly get. Brazilian fans should flock to this recording.

Celebrando is a sonic excursion, a joyous vacation where passion is the tour guide and the performance is the trip you simply hate to see come to an end. An all star ensemble with original compositions that seem destined to become Brazilian standard in their own right, Celebrando showcases the brilliance of Meurkens both as an instrumentalist and as a composer. An eclectic and incredibly original look at Brazilian jazz, Meurkens and Espinosa welcome you to the land of rhythm and groove. A lyrical gem that is virtually flawless.

5 Stars.

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blogcritics.org - Jack GoodStein - Mar. 19, 2012

Hendrik Meurkens & Gabriel Espinosa - Celebrando

Brazilian jazz and its musical impact is the focus of Celebrando, a collaborative effort between harmonica virtuoso Hendrik Meurkens and bassist Gabriel Espinosa, together with a supporting cast of musical fellow travelers of no mean talent in their own right.

An Espinosa composition, "La Esperanza," a bossa nova, opens the album. It features some fine scatting from Wedding that is complemented by a Meurkens solo and Tsiganov on the electric piano, and provides an excellent preview of coming attractions. Meurkens' "Slow Breeze" once again has Wedding strutting her stuff, now in tandem with Meurkens' harmonica.

Tsiganov and Seeley add some highlights of their own. The one piece on the album not written by Espinosa, Meurkens or Tsiganov is Luis Demetrio's bolero, "La Puerta." Espinosa does the vocal with a quiet conviction that stands in stark contrast to the Wedding vocal arabesques that run through the rest of the album.

As long as the likes of Meurkens and Espinosa, Cohen and Seeley, Wedding and Tsiganov are around exploring those new directions, there is sure to be plenty of vibrant music still to come, and we can look forward to "Celebrando 200."

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Cabaret Scenes - Melody Breyer-Grell - Aug. 5, 2009

Iridium Jazz Club - New York, NY

Gabriel Espinosa Band, featuring Allison Wedding

Wow. It is not always easy to distinguish one Latin jazz band from the next, but somewhere in the middle of Gabriel Espinosa's CD release show, I was transported to a world of exotic and exciting colors, rhythms and weather patterns that are not part of the continental USA.

Ultimately the evening's success fell on Gabriel Espinosa - who managed to pull off the almost unheard of feat by creating a program of originals (examples being "Morning Breeze" and companion piece "Hurricane") as compelling as one of familiar standards. The one standard he did sing, "Perfida," clearly came from a man whose very soul is embedded in this music. His bass guitar resonated deeply and warmly...

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Jazz Review - Paul J. Youngman - May 2, 2009

Gabriel Espinosa: "From Yucatan to Rio"

The debut recording by Gabriel Espinosa on the Zoho label From Yucatan To Rio was my choice for one of the best recordings of 2009...

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JazzTimes - Susan Frances - May 26, 2009

Gabriel Espinosa: "From Yucatan to Rio"

Brazilian rhythms seamed with canals of gently roasting harmonies and harpooned by buttery bows and arrows provide the decor for the Zoho Records debut by Mexico-born bassist/composer/arranger Gabriel Espinosa entitled From Yucatan To Rio. Espinosa is accompanied by a group of Latin music purveyors including trumpeter Claudio Roditi, alto saxophonist George Robert, pianist Helio Alves, drummer Antonio Sanchez...

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