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The Scarlet & Black

The Scarlet & Black

Jazz Quintet plays Sebring-Lewis

By Christopher Squier

While the Super Bowl occupied the attention of most of campus last Sunday evening, a completely different group of professionals performed Latin Jazz in the Sebring-Lewis Auditorium for the small group of students and music lovers willing to trek through the ice and snow.

Ashanti, an Iowa-based Latin jazz/jazz group led by bassist and vocalist Grinnell Professor Gabriel Espinosa, Music, played alongside two international, New York-based jazz artists—Hendrik Meurkens from Germany played vibes and harmonica alongside the Russian pianist Misha Tsiganov.

Gabriel Espinosa and other members of the jazz quintet perform in Sebring-Lewis Hall on Sunday evening – Andrew Kelley

In addition to Espinosa, Meurkens and Tsiganov, the band included Tim Crumley on drums, Ryan Mullen on percussion and Dave Kobberdahl on trumpet.

Professor Espinosa, in an email, summarized the gist of their project. “The project is basically based on the idea of presenting the three different harmonic, melodic and rhythmic interpretations of Brazilian music styles by these three composers. We respect Brazilian music very much and have spent many years listening and playing this specific music style. The only other musical style that we played during the concert was a Bolero,” he wrote.

The audience seemed to appreciate this attention to the roots of the music.

“The fact that all the members played with a lot of passion really showed through the music,” Colleen Osbourne ’13 said.

Meurkens and Tsiganov met each other in New York City, but the rest of the group is Iowan or has come to stay in Iowa, as Espinosa did from Yucatan. Meurkens explained how they came to play jazz together. “There are no real set bands in jazz anymore. Because there’s not enough work, everyone plays with as many bands as they can catch … eventually, if you like a certain style, you find each other,” he said. Meurkens spoke about learning Latin Jazz in Germany, of all places. “That was still back in Hamburg, in the old days before Internet, before everything else. When you heard an album, you went downtown to the record store and looked for the next album, the CD or the LP,” Meurkens said. “For Misha, in Russia, that was much harder. If you wanted something, you had to actually search for it.”

Although he studied music at Berkley, Meurkens said he’s basically self-taught in terms of jazz—he says he got into it “just through affinity. You hear it, you like it. No secret reason.” Since there are not many jazz performances at Grinnell, the concert proved a welcome opportunity for students.

“Even though the audience was really small, the group still delivered a great performance,” Julia Hoeckner ’13 said after the performance. “I liked the fact that there was a diverse background of people up on stage. It signified that Latin jazz doesn’t necessarily have to be played by Latinos. It was definitely worth it. We really enjoyed ourselves”
That the group did not hail from Brazil interested other students as well.

“It was really good, especially their take on Brazilian music, even though none of them are ethnically Brazilian,” Zichao Zhang, ’13 said.

According to Espinosa, the group will head to New York City during the summer and possibly complete a recording project. His latest recording, “From Yucatan to Rio” (2009) is available on iTunes.

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