With a remarkable array of instruments and talented artists who play them, the band is admirably prepared to take on the rhythms and melodies that make this album so incredible. Miguel Espinoza is on the acoustic guitar with Dianne Betkowski on cello, Lynn Baker on saxophone, Randy Hoepker on bass, and the percussion of Andy Skellenger on table and cajon, and Mario Moreno on timbales, congas, and bongo. From Latin to Indian rhythms, this band is percussive even when playing melodies. This is music to energize you, romanticize you, and enthrall you.
The album opens with the emotional and evocative Gnossienne and, as the title suggests, has a marvelous dance-like feel that conjures up Gnossiennes No. 1 of Erik Satie. This was the way to grab my attention from the start. The flamenco guitar of Espinoza with the fabulous cello of Betkowski anchors the melodic line before Baker’s sax works into the theme with its haunting melody. Somewhere Erik Satie is dancing.
Bulerias Barrocas reveals the heart and drive of these artists with the furious flamenco rhythms which, sadly, lasts only just short of three minutes. The fury of that song is followed and supplanted by Sad with Betkowski’s cello at the forefront. It is emotional—as one would suspect—and it is captivating, especially at the jump to vivace before returning to the slower pace. This is such a well-constructed song and it performed flawlessly.
Veneta, the title track, is a play between guitar and cello before the soprano sax adds its voice. All throughout, the percussion is mesmerizing. This demands several plays and replays. Then Cayendo switches tempo and tone as it becomes an almost-lullaby. It is enchanting as the guitar leads off before again being joined by the soprano saxophone. Baker’s saxophone is charming and Betkowski’s cello adds depth to the mood. But you’ve got to love Espinoza’s guitar and the way it draws everyone else into its gravitational pull. At the 5:15 mark, it turns into a flamenco of seismic proportions before sweetly and softly returning to the lullaby.
The album concludes with Happy. It is exactly that. The percussion kicks off a lively rhythm that underlies the melodic work of guitar, cello, and saxophone. This is how you conclude an album. The dancing and drifting melodies and harmonies are intoxicating and gratifying. It ends with celebration and lightens the heart.
Miguel Espinoza Flamenco Fusion’s Veneta is absolutely wonderful. It will gratify the World Music lover, the Flamenco enthusiast, and anyone who has a heart. My God, I love this album.
~Travis Rogers, Jr. is The Jazz Owl