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Viola Player Debbie Spring's "TOCAMOS"

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    Posted: 02 Oct 2023 at 10:14pm







A Set of Mostly Originals Reflecting the Cultural Diversity of South Florida

Released on July 17, 2023 on CR Records


DEBBIE SPRING - Tocamos cover




Jazz is an art form that embraces a wide variety of musical styles performed on a wide variety of musical instruments that are less common in other genres. There have been several great jazz violinists, but there haven't been too many jazz viola players, especially one like DEBBIE SPRING, who plays a five-string viola. Spring is now releasing her sophomore album, TOCAMOS, a collection of mostly original and stylistically diverse tunes.


Five-string violas are fairly rare. Violins and viola strings are both tuned in perfect fifths. The violin tuning is G, D, A, E while the strings of the viola, which are tuned one fifth lower than the violin, are C, G, D, A. Inspired by her classical education and her love of Jean-Luc Ponty, Spring has added a high E string to her instrument to be able to play closer to the range of a violin.


Spring was born in Miami and still lives in South Florida. When she was just two years old, her mother saw how much she loved music and started piano lessons at age five. Wanting to join her school’s orchestra, Spring discovered the viola. She immediately fell in love with the sound of the instrument and eventually had the opportunity to study with several renowned viola teachers.


Although she pursued her musical education at the University of Miami, studying classical music, she had discovered jazz and fell in love with Jean-Luc Ponty’s playing when she heard his early, acoustic jazz violin albums. The University of Miami has a world class jazz department, and the department head allowed her to take a jazz improvisation class in her senior year. After graduating, she set out on a career playing jazz with different groups in the South Florida region. She performed with the group Ira Sullivan Strings Attached. They recorded an eponymous album in 1983, garnering Spring positive reviews.


Spring went back to the University for a master’s degree and began writing music. She performed with her own group for a while and produced a jazz fusion album, Ocean Drive, in 1990. Adept at numerous styles, she became one of the busiest viola players in the country. She played pop music, toured with a popular country group called The Mavericks, performed classical concerts with The Florida Grand Opera and the Santa Fe Opera, among others, and backed the famous Miami Sound Machine. One of her favorite gigs was touring with Shakira. Spring relates, “I loved playing with Shakira. I’m a jazz musician at heart and Shakira didn’t dictate what I was supposed to play. She let me improvise, and I had some of the most fun trading riffs with her on stage.”


TOCAMOS means “we play” in Spanish. Spring wrote most of the music during the pandemic lockdown, and the title of the album reflects her desire to get back together with other musicians to play music. Joining Spring


are some of the top, versatile musicians who make their home in the Miami area, including HAL ROLAND (piano, keyboard), RUSTY HECK (bass and Spring’s husband), ETTIENNE FUENTES JR. (drums), SCOTT MARISCHEN (harp), PHILL FEST (guitar), HOWARD LEVY (harmonica and known for his work with Bela Fleck and the Flecktones), DAVID SCHANZER (percussion), JULIO MATTA (percussion), and EDDYORIENTE” BALZOLA (spoken word).


Spring’s playing is heartfelt and technically flawless, and the songs are inflected with Latin, Brazilian, straight-ahead jazz, pop, and classical music, reflecting the cultural diversity of South Florida. She opens the album with “Mockingbird,” using the song of a mockingbird that she recorded in her garden. Spring actually incorporated some of the bird’s phrases in her composition. The tune has an accessible, lyrical style reminiscent of Herbie Hancock’s “Maiden Voyage.”


“Fragile,” composed by Sting, is a pop tune featuring vocals by Hal Roland. Rusty Heck’s arrangement gives the song a Latin tinge. The strings are front and center with Spring’s viola and swirling licks from Scott Marischen’s harp.


“Summer,” written by Spring, was inspired by early Jean-Luc Ponty. It features the jazz quartet of piano, bass, drums, and Spring’s soulful, lilting viola.


“Tocamos,” the title tune, was written by Spring, Rusty Heck, and Cuban born guitarist and composer Eddy Balzola. It features the English translation of a poem written and recited by Balzola. The poem reflects Spring’s strongly held belief that music brings people together no matter their nationality and outlook, which is especially relevant for today’s fraught times. Spring reprises the tune as the closing number with the original Spanish lyrics.


“Bossa Minha” was composed by Spring and Heck. A gentle bossa, it features Brazilian-American guitarist Phill Fest and percussion by David Schanzer.


Spring has gone to Argentina many times with Shakira and fell in love with the music. Although the bandoneon is sometimes thought of as the soul of the tango, on “Tango Y Mas,” Spring instead uses Howard Levy on harmonica. Levy is a two-time Grammy winner who is a widely acknowledged master of the diatonic harmonica. Heck, with roots from West Africa, along with percussionist David Schanzer, provided the rhythmic basis for “Senegal,” written by Spring in 5/4. It is built on rhythms from the region.


It’s rare to hear viola as the lead instrument in jazz. Pitched between a violin and cello, it takes a highly accomplished musician like Debbie Spring to use its warm, mellow sound in a jazz setting. With her classical technique, deep knowledge of a range of international styles, solid jazz chops, and superb compositional skills, TOCAMOS is a compelling second project for an artist with an already extensive career.


# # #


TOCAMOS was released on July 17, 2023 on CR Records and is available everywhere.







IG: @debbiespringmusic


Edited by snobb - 02 Oct 2023 at 10:15pm
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