Miguel Espinoza: An Awareness of the Music InsideThe music of Miguel Espinoza Flamenco Fusion encourages listeners to look inward while simultaneously inspiring them to be swept away by the musical experience, allowing the melodic patterns to speak to their souls. The group, led by guitarist and composer Miguel Espinoza, has self-released four full-length recordings, each receiving applause and acclaim from music communities around the world.
Espinoza outlines, “My current group is a fresh collaboration with an amazing cellist, Dianne Betkowski, and bass player, Randy Hoepker.”
Trained in classical chamber music and cello, Dianne Betkowski’s original works have been performed by the Rochester Philharmonic, in addition to the national symphonies of St. Louis, Houston, Honolulu, and Colorado, among many other groups. Her strings bond with Espinoza’s, partnering chamber music idioms with folkloric and flamenco tones.Randy Hoepker’s bass strings integrate earthy textures into the mix, spinning a cushiony foundation for the melodic improvisations and anecdote-like flights taken by Espinoza and Betkowski. Hoepker performs various musical styles on bass, guitar, and saxophone and has been the conductor of Colorado Brass. He experiments with jazz improvisation and arranging, coaching chamber music, and is open to creating new musical voyages, which come easily to Miguel Espinoza Flamenco Fusion.
Over the course of the group’s four recordings, the trio has been supported by a number of guest artists. These guests have included harmonica and piano player Howard Levy, saxophonist Lynn Baker, tabla and cajón instrumentalist Andy Skellenger, and sitar player Bijay Shrestha, along with Jordi Marin and Espinoza’s daughter Gabriella Espinoza on palmas, and Mario Moreno on timbales, congas, and bongos. Most recently, violinist David Balakrishnan from the Turtle Island Quartet and vibraphonist David Hagedorn have each contributed to Fusion’s latest release, Gabriella.
“Gabriella was named after my daughter,” Espinoza shares, “who is 19 and attending her first year of college at the University of Colorado-Boulder. I have been divorced since she was six and have taught her well: how to go camping and pitch a tent, be strong, and be her own person. So this album is very fitting to be named after such a brave and strong young lady.”The warm blend of multiple musical cultures creates a montage that infuses Spanish flamenco synchronized with Indian rhythms, Turkish accented dervishes, orchestral shimmers, and the whimsical improvisation of western Tex-Mex swing jazz. The music induces a spiritual lift in audiences, bolstered by romantic aesthetics supported by a buoyant pulse. The atmosphere transmits joy and optimism, making these vibrations and emotions accessible to audiences. In essence, the recording is a transformative experience, as flamenco music had been for Espinoza.
“Flamenco called me as a young toddler,” Espinoza reveals, “because I was brought to tears listening to the Cante and the ancient rhythms, and of course, the technically demanding guitar.”
“My first influence was Carlos Montoya,” he remembers, “and I went backstage and played for him when I was seven years old, and he immediately took me aside and touched my hands and showed me some exercises.”
“When I was a young teenager,” he recalls, “I met Paco de Lucía, and he became a great influence, as well as an advisor in my life.”
“Looking back, he confides, “My mother was 16 years old when she gave birth to me. I have no father. She is a Chicana, Native American muralist Carlota EspinoZa. She left me alone a lot to discover herself and her art.”
“The guitar was my constant,” he illuminates, “even when I was taken away and put in foster homes. My love of the guitar was, and still is, my strongest bond to anything in my life.”
“My grandmother was an alcoholic,” he explains, “and took me to bars, and I would play music when I was a young child, and people would throw money at me, and she would get her drinking money. Thus, I became a professional guitarist.”
“I remember my mom taking me to a classical guitarist to take a lesson,” he recounts, “and I was excited to show him the melodies I composed, and was heartbroken when he did not acknowledge my creativity and made me read music. I was not interested in playing these childish melodies. I already had the music inside of me.”Espinoza discovered an awareness of the music inside of him early in his life. An awareness that he kept a hold of into adulthood. A visceral language that has grown and expanded with him. A language that his partners in Fusion interact with and play off of, enhancing the transformative experience of Espinoza’s flamenco style.
“I spent most of my 20s and early 30s touring with Maria Benitez’s Spanish dance company,” he provides, “and many other Spanish dancers such as Vicente Romero, Jose Greco, etc.”
“When I was 35,” he notes, “I signed a record deal with Silverwave Music and wanted Indian Tablas along with me because listening to Indian music spoke something ancient to me. That’s when I met Bela Fleck and Howard Levy. And since then, my life has been about collaborating with musicians from all over the world and me, just pulling from my boiling vat of tradition and my own intuition.”
“At this point in my life, turning 64 years old,” he muses, “I am just now beginning to enjoy the beginning of age as a musician and composer.”When most people at Espinoza’s age are looking forward to retirement, he is looking forward to performing Fusion’s material live, as his agile mind continues to compose music from what he interprets in his thoughts. The physical manifestation of his thoughts channeled into his fingers, moving along the fretboard and strings of his guitar, speaking a language that stimulates and activates his partners.
The free flow of ideas and bonding between Espinoza and his partners has netted the group four full-length recordings. Each represents a new phase in the group’s development. Their debut release, Turtle Dreams, intimates a delicacy that bares a human sensitivity to audiences. In the follow-up recording, Veneta approaches the listener with the confidence to risk spreading their wings and deliver a cavalcade of improvised meanderings. The flamenco-esque excursions flittering across Living in a Dream are bold and lofty, as the banter between the musicians arc into organic fluctuations that promulgate a melodic rapport, which is magnetic and enthralling to listeners.
“To sum up my life,” he characterizes, “my main purpose with music is to touch people’s hearts, remind them of their humanity, and bring people together. That’s it.”“When I’m not doing music,” Espinoza broaches, “I am going to nature as much as I can because the mountains are my church, and I am a hot springs junkie. I love animals so much and have a little dog who was a Covid puppy and a little bird named Nagi, the spirit in Lakota.”
The music of the Miguel Espinoza Flamenco Fusion evokes introspection and optimism, finding so much beauty in life. The romantic lilt infused into the tracks has a universal appeal that speaks to the soul, meriting applause and acclaim from music communities worldwide. Perhaps seeing so much beauty in life can only be viewed through a romantic lens, but the lens that Espinoza sees life through is just as real as every other. The smooth bonding and perceptive synchronicity demonstrated by Fusion shares Espinoza’s vision. A vision that is in touch with the music continually taking shape inside of him.
About Susan Frances:Born in Brooklyn, New York and raised in eastern Long Island, I always enjoyed writing and made several contributions to my high school literary magazine, The Lion’s Pen. Influenced by writers of epic novels including Colleen McCullough and James Clavell, I gravitated to creative writing. After graduating from New York University with a BA in Liberal Arts, I tried my hand at conventional jobs but always returned to creative writing. Since 1998, I have been a freelance writer and have over three thousand articles to various e-zines including: Jazz Times, Blogcritics, Yahoo Voices, Goodreads.com, Authors and Books (books.wiseto.com), TheReadingRoom.com, Amazon.com, Epinions.com, Fictiondb.com, LibraryThing.com, BTS emag, BarnesandNoble.com, RomanticHistoricalReviews.com, AReCafe.com, Hybrid Magazine, and BookDepository.com. In 2013 and 2014, I was a judge in the Orange Rose Writing Competition sponsored by the Orange County chapter of the Romance Writers of America located in Brea, California.