Espirito is a suite that extends and expands the vision of Lawson Rollins’ critically-acclaimed debut solo release Infinita with thirteen compositions that delve deep into the roots of world music.
Rollins reunites with Persian-American musician and producer Shahin Shahida (of Shahin & Sepehr) and multi-platinum producer Dominic Camardella (Flora Purim, 3rd Force, Ottmar Liebert) to craft an epic World Music odyssey that reaches across cultures and musical traditions. The cast includes iconic Brazilian singer Flora Purim, legendary percussionist Airto Moreira, Iranian kamancheh master Kayhan Kalhor, and Grammy winners Charlie Bisharat on violin as well as Cuban drummer Horacio “El Negro” Hernandez.
About the making of "ESPIRITO"
The recording process for Espirito followed the template Rollins and co-producers Shahin Shahida and Dominic Camardella laid down on Infinita. “I wrote the songs and basic arrangements,” Rollins says, “but I left space for the players to be creative. I may ask for the flavors I want, but they’re free to bring in their ideas.”
Espirito’s wide-ranging musical palette spans continents and cultures without losing its bedrock groove or playful sense of adventure. “I love the hybrid quality of World Music and how it allows for cross-cultural communication and exchange,” Lawson says. “Centuries ago, travel, trade, and migration created new forms of musical expression. The Spanish guitar is a true manifestation of the commingling of cultures with its ties to the Arabic oud, the Persian tar, even the Indian sitar, so drawing on those connections seems natural to me.”
Things kick off with the Latin flavored “Rumba del Sol,” a nod to the music of Young & Rollins, the genre-busting duo Rollins played with from 1998 to 2006. “We did salsa flamenca with two guitars backed by a small Latin rhythm section. Here I incorporate a richer palette of instruments: piano, horn section, fretless electric bass, and Charlie Bisharat’s violin, which implies the gypsy roots of the music.” Rollins and Bisharat trade blazing solos, supported by Bryant’s inventive timekeeping on cajon, clave, and drum kit. “Moonlight Samba” was largely improvised around a basic samba rhythm, with Jeff Elliot’s muted trumpet adding a sultry feel. Moreira, Purim, and their daughter Diana Booker ad libbed their vocals on the spot as Rollins took off on an extended jazzy excursion. Sustained notes from Shahin’s electric guitar add to the steamy atmosphere.
Shahin’s electric guitar accents and the drumming of Cuban-born Horacio “El Negro” Hernandez introduce the ska Cubano of “Havana Heat.” Bryant’s swinging percussion accents suggest son and cha cha beats, while veteran trumpeter Jeff Elliot adds a robust horn section arrangement and fiery solo. Rollins injects bluesy phrases to compliment the mid-tempo groove. “Café La Martinique” brings together biguine, a traditional rhythm from Martinique and the Cuban danzón, as a modern charanga ensemble might play it. Richard Hardy’s sparkling flute and the guitar of Rollins combine tropical and urban impulses into a mélange of sound. “I imagined a band of Caribbean musicians playing in a small French café,” Rollins explains. “You can hear the sound of both island life and city hustle and bustle in the playing. The coda at the end is a moment of reverie that suggests it all may be a memory of an experience you’ve never had.” The ensemble tried something new with “Santa Lucia Waltz” by playing the piece without the usual rhythmic accents of a waltz. Dave Bryant adds subtle percussion effects, including rubbing his hands together and panning the sound from left to right across the sonic field. Tico’s fretless bass manages to soar soulfully above the melody in spots, while Cameron Stone’s cello and Bisharat’s violin imply waltz time without strictly adhering to the beat.
Other compelling tracks on Espirito include “Blue Mountain Bolero,” featuring the slide guitar work of Joseph Ehtesham-zedeh, and the understated interplay between Rollins on acoustic guitar and bluesy, sustained notes from Shahida’s electric; “Return to Rio,” a bossa nova with hints of Cuban rhythms in Bryant’s timekeeping; the jazzy, swinging “Espirito” with some impressive, rippling single note runs from Rollins; the quietly cinematic “Cape Town Sky” with Shahida’s wordless vocals and atmospheric keyboard work and the quiet, pastoral “Footprints,” an intimate guitar solo complimented by Dave Bryant’s subliminal percussion accents.
The album closes with “The Caravan Trilogy,” a poetic journey through time and geography that implies the movement of music from India to Persia, the Middle East, Spain, and on to the New World. Rollins explains: “The legend is that a Persian ruler asked the king of India to send some musicians to his court in the 5th century AD. Over the centuries, the descendants of those musicians moved on to the Middle East, North Africa, eastern Europe, and Spain, eventually becoming known as the Gypsies; their influenced stretched on to Cuba and the Caribbean. That shared heritage created diverse musical cross-pollinations in these cultures. The players on Espirito are connected to traditions from India, Persia, Afghanistan, Spain, Brazil, Cuba and the United States. Together we took a far-ranging musical journey of our own in the recording of the album.”
The Caravan Trilogy opens with “Migration:” Moroccan ghanoon (Arab zither) player Hicham El Anmari, violinist Bisharat, and Rollins set the stage for the expedition with a pan-Arabic composition that hints at the sounds of Persia, India, Spain, and Egypt, a tune one might have heard on the Silk Road two thousand years ago. “Shadowland” is a meditative piece. Rollins opens with runs that suggest flamenco guitar, oud, and sitar. Kayhan Kalhor’s kamancheh adds its ancient melancholy cry, playing in harmony with Bisharat’s violin and supported by the subliminal drone of Humayun Khan’s tambura. “The tone is Middle Eastern,” Rollins states, “but I drew on American Mountain music to write the melodies.” The Trilogy, and album, closes with “Into the Light.” Rollins plays his trademark rolling, lightning fast single note runs, highlighted by rhythmic slapped chords, while Shahida plays improvisations based on traditional Persian modes on electric guitar, then the players take off for a brief period of free improvisation. “Near the end, we slide into the ether,” Rollins says. “The notes slow down and evaporate into silence, a prayerful conclusion to the Trilogy and the album, a moment of thankfulness for the alchemy that takes place between musicians.”
Espirito was recorded at Skywalker Sound, the state of the art Marin country studio owned by George Lucas, and Santa Barbara Sound Design, the studio of world music maestro Dominic Camardella. The album was co-produced by Rollins, Camardella, and Shahin Shahida of the Persian-American world/jazz band Shahin & Sepehr, the same winning team behind Infinita. “We wanted to take every aspect of the music up a notch,” Rollins explains. “Infinita challenged me by assembling players from all over the world and taking me out of my comfort zone. It was seen as primarily a collection of songs, though. This time, we produced a 66-minute musical odyssey, with more concern for the over-arching statement of the album as a whole. We had a more diverse cast of characters, a bigger spectrum of sound, and an even greater concern with capturing all the performances in maximum fidelity. We recorded using Dominic’s collection of vintage equipment run through a hybrid digital/analog mixing console that recreates the warmth of analogue while maintaining the separation you can lose in digital. Skywalker has a big room that captures the guitar overtones and ambience, which always inspires peak performances. The final mix was put onto analogue tape and mastered by the legendary Bernie Grundman.”
Produced by Shahin Shahida, Dominic Camardella and Lawson Rollins