The latest album from Miguel Espinoza Flamenco Fusion, Veneta, might be a harbinger of things to come in 2022. As soon as we got through the bulk of the holidays I sensed something in the influx of review titles, something that suggests we’re headed back toward Latin jazz trends in the coming year. In addition to six titles just sent from Zoho Music, prompted by a comment I recently made during the Alexis Cole review about not seeing any of their latest releases, I’ve also grown quite attached to this beautiful flamenco music performed by a stunning and unique quintet.
The Miguel Espinoza Flamenco Fusion consists of an unusual complement of performers, with Espinoza on guitar, Lynn Baker on sax, Dianne Betkowski on cello, Randy Hoepker on bass and Andy Skellenger on various percussion such as a cajon and a tabla. (Additional percussion is supplied by Mario Moreno on “Sad.”) Look carefully at this line-up and you’ll start to wonder about the basic elements of flamenco music (starting with the guitar, of course), and how this lush and romantic core will be accentuated by unusual arrangements.
Your answer comes seconds after the first few bars of Satie’s Gnossienne, imbued with the proper rhythms, of course. This is accessible music at first listen; you’ll chase no one from the room. It reminds me of the intersection between world music and new age I used to listen to back in the early ’90s, but more authentic in its approach. In fact, it takes more than a couple of listens before you discover that Miguel Espinoza Flamenco Fusion is unpeeling that proverbial cebolla.
These six original compositions, Satie variations aside, are epic in scope thanks to all these world music influences, Miguel Espinoza and his gorgeous flamenco guitar at the center, but then each percussion instrument played–cajon and tabla, eventually joined by timbales, congas and bongos–shines a different light, at a different angle, on each song. You’ll feel safe within the flamenco construct, but there are times when the percussion takes off with considerable fury, revealing that different types of music from different parts of the world have a lot more in common when we think. That’s what makes Veneta so exhilarating and yet still lovely and romantic.