At last resurrecting her solo recording career after a whopping 33 years, Debbie Spring may not be the world’s only jazz violist making bold musical statements playing a five string viola – but she is definitely the most fascinating. Inspired by Jean-Luc Ponty, she became a popular force on South Florida’s jazz scene before become a wildy clectic, globally renowned force of nature, playing with country band The Mavericks, performing classical concerts with the Florida Grand Opera and Santa Fe Opera, backing the Miami Sound Machine and touring with Shakira.
True to its title, Spring’s grand return with Tocamos finds her touching our ears, hearts and souls in myriad ways, tapping into her rhythmic passions for Latin and Brazilian vibes, pop, jazz and classical music. After opening with the moody and adventurous jazz fusion of “Mockingbird” (that starts with a lonesome melody combined with an actual mockingbird call), she breezes into the sweet melancholy strains of the intro to Sting’s “Fragile” before heading towards the core of the song with a brisk Latin groove and the engaging vocals of Hal Roland.
Perhaps the best showcase for Spring’s lilting and improvisational viola magic is the dreamy, easy flowing, then frisky and more improvisational “Summer,” inspired by early Jean-Luc and featuring Roland’s sparkling piano solo. The title track is a funky and fiery, heavily percussive romp that launches with a brief poetic passage recited by Cuban born guitarist/composer Eddy Balzola, who co-wrote the tune with Spring and bassist Rusty Heck; a later reprise of “Tocamos” features the same verse, read in Spanish.
Spring’s other gems include the sensual, gently swaying “Bossa Minha, featuring a tenderhearted dance with the subtle acoustic guitar harmonies of Phill Fest; the percussively dramatic, uber-romantic and highly danceable “Tango Y Mas,” which substitutes Howard Levy’s harmonica for the more familiar tango instrument, the bandoneon; and the earthy, exotic “Senegal,” which taps gently into the easy rhythms of that region in Africa. Now that Spring has touched us this deeply, we can hope she’ll follow up at least a bit more quickly than last time.