Album Review of

Written by Joe Ross
January 12, 2022 - 4:47pm EST
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Melding flamenco, Cuban, classical Indian and jazz musical forms, Miguel Espinoza Flamenco Fusion formed in 2018 and has been thrilling enthusiastic audiences with their exhilarating world music ever since.  Guitarist Miguel Espinoza learned to play at age four in the early ’60s and moved to Madrid after high school to apprentice with flamenco masters.  First encountering jazz in a New York City club in his late twenties, he returned to his Denver home and began developing his signature sound that fuses jazz with sounds from around the world. The mid-90s found Espinoza playing with tabla player Ty Burhoe in the band Curandero (meaning “healer” in Spanish). They released a 1996 album, Arás, that included banjo phenom Bela Fleck and bassist Kai Eckhardt.

Miguel Espinoza Flamenco Fusion’s first CD, Turtle Dreams, debuted their colorful, vibrant and emotional world music in 2019. The project also includes Lynn Baker (saxophone), Dianne Betkowski (cello), Randy Hoepker (bass) and Andy Skellenger (tabla, cajón). Each stellar musician brings their own extensive background and experience to the table, whether it be flamenco charm, jazz magic, classical sensibility or rhythmic Indian energy.   The ensemble’s sophomore effort, Veneta, is a six-track album that continues their presentation of organic melodies with dynamic improvisation and sophisticated rhythmic elements.  Veneta also includes percussionist Mario Moreno, a new member of the ensemble, on the group’s most recent composition, “Sad,” that was recorded during the coronavirus pandemic and splendidly conveys the sorrow and melancholy they felt. The song also ties into the group's goal of using their music to remind people of their humanity.

In an anthemic piece like “Caynedo,” one might hear some of Espinoza’s traditional flamenco roots, but Miguel Espinoza Flamenco Fusion takes their mesmerizing world jazz into more adventurous territory with different approaches to dynamics, tonal and rhythmic configuration. On the eight-minute title cut, for example, “Veneta” creates a pensive aesthetic, while the musicians clearly have plenty of freedom to paint the sonic canvas with wistful improvisation. Their stunning rendition of Erik Satie’s “Gnossienne” uses a type of flamenco rhythm (bulería) while also having an expressive jazzy feeling (featuring Baker’s sax) along with artfully dissonant harmonies played by cellist Betkowski. While the group’s music seems firmly rooted in jazz tradition, their keen (almost telepathic) sense of interaction, openness to eclectic cultural influences, freedom to innovate, and attention to timbral contrast make it into a gorgeous global chamber music performance emphasizing beauty, elegance and intricacy.  (Joe Ross, Roots Music Report)