In August of 2019 the debut album by Baltimore-based pianist Joshua Espinoza arrived on my desk. The album featured a unique take on a rather eclectic range of covers and standards and regularly found it’s way into my vintage NAD CD player. In the concluding paragraph of my review I wrote “With this debut album Joshua Espinoza his created a self inflicted dilemma, “Journey into Night” will be a tough act to follow however a challenge I’m sure he’s up for. Fast forward almost two years and Joshua has proved indeed that it was a challenge he was up for with the release of his take on the popular Hymn “Morning has broken” where the pianist reflects on a year of loss yet nurtures optimism.
Hymns are a bit like jazz standards—well-known, widely circulated, and subject to creative reinterpretation and reinvention. Joshua’s fresh and meditative take on the hymn in his video release. As spring unfurls and the COVID crisis begins to abate, the song’s underlying message of hope and renewal resonates throughout Espinoza’s inspired interpretation.
The vacuum of 2020 brought performances and projects to a halt for so many artists, Espinoza included. “Finding inspiration during the past year has been difficult. I felt like my artistic rug was pulled out from underneath me,” he recounts. “Playing music with others is essential to my creativity, and the sudden loss of collaboration was a punch in the gut.” But as the months progressed, Espinoza increasingly sought inspiration in beautiful melodies of the past. “I would sit at the piano, playing through hymns, songs of loss, and songs of hope that past and present generations have used for comfort. I found a particular peacefulness in the soaring melody of ‘Morning has Broken,’ which speaks of renewal and the dawning of a new day. Playing and improvising over this melody emboldened me to look past the bleakness of the pandemic and towards the future.”
Espinoza’s performance, beautifully filmed in a candle-lit cathedral with a backdrop of softly illuminated stained glass, begins in a sound-world of dreamlike impressionism. Out of this evocative pre-dawn atmosphere blooms the rising figure of the hymn, like a sudden ray of light. Espinoza continues to explore this interplay of complex, saturated sonorities and the plain-spoken directness of the essential melody, ultimately moving towards an improvisatory climax and an ethereal coda.
Introspective yet forward-looking, solemn yet leaning into the promise of joys yet to come, Espinoza’s reading captures the paradox of our current condition. “Morning has Broken,” widely popularized during the folk movement by Cat Stevens, has come to have associations as both a children’s song and as a funeral hymn. This duality speaks to our current moment, as Espinoza manages to process a year of collective trauma and grief while simultaneously nurturing a childlike optimism.
In addition to the video release the track is also available on all of the major audio streaming platforms. To stream the track click here and choose your platform of choice.
Find out more about Joshua Espinoza here at his website.
Last modified: July 13, 2021