By Devon Wendell
Guitarist Lawson Rollins’ music has been spanning the globe and exploring many diverse musical traditions, tones, and textures for more than a decade. (His remarkable, fast fingered “Fire Cadenza” has already received over 2 ½ million YouTube views.)
On this latest album, Rollins continues to apply his prodigious technique to a far-reaching collection of material. Espirito reaches beyond the familiar areas of Latin jazz with some adventurous compositions and stirring solos. On “Ramba del Sol” there are daring improvisational exchanges between Lawson, bassist Randy Tico, percussionist Dave Bryant, and violinist Charlie Bisharat. The horns (Jeff Elliot, trumpet and Justin Claveria, tenor sax) are most impressive on “Havana Heat,” featuring Elliot’s subtle yet sleek and funky horn arrangements. Rollins’s attack on this number dives right into the soul of the blues with fast minor pentatonic trills and slow string bends.
On “Blue Mountain Bolero,” Rollins infuses his masterful Segovia-like acoustic guitar runs with rock-inspired wah-wah leads by one of the album’s producers, Shahin Shahida. Equally impressive: Joseph Ehtesham-zedeh’s spaghetti Western slide guitar, eerie keyboard work by the album’s other producer, Dominic Camardella, and the frenetic violin playing of Bisharat.
The ambient vocals delivered by Flora Purin and Diana Booker sound as if they were pushed too far back in the mix on “Moonlight Samba,” “Return To Rio,” and the title track, in a manner that distracts from the outstanding instrumental performances. The only similar number to pull it off effectively is the African inspired Cape Town Sky, in which guitarist Shahida adds colorful vocal flourishes that stay tastefully in context with the song’s theme.
Rollins and company take the listener on a continuous geographical tour of Cuba, Africa, and even the South of France on Cafe La Martinique. The sultry tango swing and brilliant interplay between Richard Hardy on clarinet and flute, Bisharat’s violin, and the psychedelic minor key electric guitar shadings by Shahida make this a standout track.
Rollins’s sense of dynamics and harmony are at the forefront of each track and mixed so that it feels as though all the other band members are dancing around his swift arpeggios, sweet motifs, and layered harmonies. While some tracks are more successful than others, the album is pieced together with purpose and love of music from all corners of the globe.