WITH HIS "INVISIBLE" CD, LUIS MUNOZ WON HIS SECOND ACAM AWARD FOR "JAZZ COMPOSER/PRODUCER OF THE YEAR" IN 2011.
It might seem odd that Luis Muñoz, a Costa RIcan pianist, percussionist and composer would title an album with such vibrant presence "Invisible"; this is music that practically begs to be noticed, not hidden away. But perhaps he chose it because, although he is undeniably the leader, Muñoz is as interested in delegating as he is in starring. Bassist Tom Etchart often takes the melodic reins in addition to providing an anchor, particularly when employing his fretless instrument.
The opening track, "ADam's Dream", unfolds slowly, then spreads out, Etchart paving the way until trumpeter Jonathan Dane and second pianist George Friedenthal arrive to have their say. On "Malabarista", Etchart's bass again performs a vital leadership role, volleying with marimba, a pair of trumpeters, tenor saxophone and more. "Luz del Sur" is a feast of seemingly incongruous elements ranging from pedal steel guitar to trumpet, to marimba, and the closing "Tango y Sangre de la Media Noche" is mark with tension and release as Laura Heckstein's violin, Dane's trumpet George Quirin's acoustic guitar., Etchart's acoustic bass and Muñoz-on piano, alto flute and pad-take turns for nearly 10 minutes exploring the main theme.
For "Hymn", a soulful gospel tune featuring the amped-up vocal of Lois Mahalia, Muñoz lays back on piano while allowing Hammond organist Jimmy Calire to lead the way, and on "Sobrevivencia", it's David Binney's alto saxophone that provides the bulk of the fireworks. "Esperanza" in fact, finds Muñoz altogether absent, handing over the track completely to classical guitarist Chris Judge and Etchart. Despite this seeming invisibility, however, Muñoz is rarely idle, filling gaps, fleshing out parts, creating percussive atmospheres and stepping up front with well-measured piano solos on several tracks.
With "Invisible", Muñoz has created a work of radiance and nuance, alternately fiery and placid, diverse yet wonderfully cohesive!
Jeff Tamarkin/JazzTimes Magazine
Luis Muñoz thinks with an open palette of sound. His vision of music is as sweeping as the eye can see and absorbs a wide spectrum of color and tone texture, from the sophisticated rough and tumble of the trance-like sound of Afro-centric worship music to the delightful swing of idiomatic phrases that spring from the joyous spirit of jazz. He also draws from thehabanera to the calypso and tangos and rondos and other European forms of ecclesiastical music to the heartfelt emotion of gospel. There may be other composers and musicians who “hear” music like Muñoz, but his background in special geometry enables him to see the sound of music sitting on virtual lines and between spaces. This is why his music—especially here, on Invisible sounds as if the sounds are as close to breathing as musical notes will ever get.
Perhaps this is why Luis Muñoz is able to create such tactile music. It is if reaching out would mean not just encountering its heart and soul through the textures and shades of sound, but also almost feeling the warm as the hand encounters its silken flesh. The surprise is in the fact that Muñoz’s music can be cerebral and yet echo with dancing, trembling feeling.Invisible is about life hidden in the pale. It is about the dispossessed and vulnerable—child, man and woman. Yet it is about hope and the triumph of human endeavor. This extends from end to end of this album and not simply in the five minutes and twenty-seven seconds of “Esperanza” although that song is a beautiful reminder that couched in the everyday blues of Central and South America hope springs eternal.
A fine characteristic of the music on Invisible is that its notes—melodies and harmonies—tumble as if they were accompanying a moving image of life as it traverses through dusty bowls and verdant forests, teeming with life. Its undulation as the music sways and shuffles across soundscapes as ethereal as “Adam’s Dream” that tracks the proverbial story of humankind’s fall from grace, the casting adrift of a dispossessed folk and the emotion of loss through the solemnity of “Sobrevivencia,” the mysticism of “De Alma y Sombra” and the singular rhythmic and harmonic artfulness of “Tango Y Sangre de la Media Noche.” Throughout Muñoz avoids direct use of folkloric forms, although the spirit and mood of many earthy rhythms of Africa and South America inhabit the shadows of the music’s rhythm ever so subtly.
Throughout the human pageant of Invisible there is a sense of simple joy and triumph. This echo is poignantly implied in the music of “Luz del Sur,” and “”Esperanza” and with magnificent abandon throughout “Malabarista” and “Manantial”. The master-stroke is one of production, not in the mechanical sense of how much music sounds today, but in the assembly of musicians who are never still in their ideas and interpretation of this fine musical suite, but, as they dance around each other’s instrumental interplay, the sadness and joy that constantly underlines the songs on the album. This is how the music comes alive—at the hands of Ramses Araya’s batás, the lonesome embouchure of Jonathan Dane’s trumpeting, Tom Etch art’s basses, Chris Judge’s guitar and a host of other stellar musicians who gather to express the music under the masterful direction of Luis Muñoz and his myriad instruments.
Tracks: 1. Adam’s Dream; 2. Luz del Sur; 3. Sobrevivencia; 4. Hymn; 5. De Alma y Sombra; 6. Malabarista; 7. Esperanza; 8. Manantial; 9. Tango y Sangre de la Media Noche.
Personnel: Luis Muñoz: piano (1 – 4, 6, 9), Fender Rhodes (8), synthesizer (1), drums (1, 2, 4 – 6, 8), cajón (1, 2); caxixi (1, 2), bombo legüero (1, 2), djembe (1); chekere (2, 3), percussion (3, 6, 8), Tama (3), alto flute (9), pad (9); Ramses Araya: batá drums (1, 3), cajón, cymbals, bongos (6, 8); Jonathan Dane: trumpet (1, 2, 6, 9); Jeff Elliott: trumpet (6); Tom Etchart: fretless bass (1, 6), electric bass (4, 8); acoustic bass (3, 5, 7, 9); George Friedenthal: piano ( 1, 2, 5), pad (2, 6,); Adam Asarnow: piano (3); Narisco Sotomayor: electric guitars (1, 8); Nico Abondolo: acoustic bass (2); Robert Clements: chékere; Bill Flores: pedal steel guitar (2); Gilberto González: acoustic guitar (2) John Nathan: marimba (2); David Binny: alto saxophone (3); Justin Claveria: tenor saxophone (6); Brad Dutz: quinto (3), percussion (3), marimba (6); Jimmy Calire: Hammond B3 Organ; Lois Mahalia: lead vocals (4), background vocals (4, 8); Chris Judge: acoustic guitar (5), classical guitar (7); Ron Kalina: chromatic harmonica (8); Teka Pendiriche: lead, background vocals (8); Andy Zúñiga: background vocals; Laura Hackstein: violin (9); George Quirin: acoustic guitar
|Top ten lists are idiotic, but they do serve a purpose. They obviously reveal more about the reviewer's own musical tastes than provide any accurate valuation of the "worth" of the hard working musician/composer's creations - painstakingly birthed as they are out of the artist's blood, sweat and tears. This is especially the case since the advent of easily accessible modern recording equipment, making it - I would venture to say - next to impossible to hear every recording released in a given year. In purusing the lists of other writers, I see an astonishing array of music that I somehow missed, despite the plethora of bulky envelopes cramming my mailbox on a near daily basis. The heartbreak of somehow not having been privy to hearing what seems some of the genarally agreed upon greatest releases of the year is tempered however, by the realization that I am able to share with the readers some exceptional recordings of their own - none of which are chopped liver - but some that seem to have been unfairly overlooked. You can always read the other lists to find recordings that bypassed me.
Veteran saxophonist Charles Lloyd's Mirror was an easy choice for my number one record of the year; with its haunting solos and stellar interplay between Lloyd and band members Jason Moran, Eric Harland and Ruben Rogers, this album is as close to perfection as 2010 saw. Meanwhile, pianist Brad Mehldau's ambitious, audacious epic Highway Rider is a sprawling and at times maddening endeavor that I believe will only grow in stature as a true musical record that is emblematic of our times.
After the first two selections, things get a bit murkier and cases could easily be made for rearranging the order on a daily, if not hourly, basis. It is a shame, really, that any size to the list be required (a top 27 for example?). But for now, I will just stop moving albums up and down and stick with what I have based on how I feel at this moment in time, and I feel strongly that no matter the order, all of these recordings listed are well worth your time to check out. This year's list includes a nice mixture of the old (Wadada Leo Smith and Ed Blackwell, Odean Pope, James Moody) and young (Singnam Singaratnam, Bartosz Hadala, Grege Ward, UOU), the well-known (Dave Holland, Paul Motian) and the should be better known (Gwilym Simcock, Soren Moller & Dick Oatts) and some true surprises (Luis Munoz). Of course, the selection for artist of the year was a no brainer: despite the fact I found his work with other artists somewhat more compelling than his own, with three recordings in the top ten, Jason Moran's selection was never in doubt. In the meantime, I urge you to support jazz and its artists by buying their work - at the same time helping to keep this important and interesting art form alive and well.
#1 - Charles Lloyd Quartet
#2 - Brad Mehldau
#3 - Paul Motian, Chris Potter, Jason Moran
"Lost in a Dream"
|#4 - Soren Moller & Dick Oatts
"The Clouds Above"
#5 - Wadada Leo Smith & Ed Blackwell
"The Blue Mountain's Sun Drummer"
#6 - Luis Munoz
#7 - The Ray Anderson Marty Erlich Quartet
"Hear You Say"
|#8 - Jason Moran|
Set your CD player to stunning! The artistry of Luis Muñoz's latest offering is like a day trip through a quiet coastal community, fresh, peaceful and beautiful.
The award-winning multi-instrumentalist composed, arranged and orchestrated 9 new songs for Invisible. Joined by Jonathan Dane on trumpet, David Binney on alto sax and singers Lois Mahalia of Guyana and Teka from Brazil, Invisible is like paradise with its subtle deep factors and unmatched sense of possibilities.
About Luis Muñoz
A native of Costa Rica, Luis Muñoz was born in San Jose, Costa Rica. He studied at the University of Costa Rica and the National Music Conservatory before immigrating to the United States where he completed his degree at the University of California at Santa Barbara. Muñoz has written music for documentaries, animated films, dance and theatre as well as working as a music producer/arranger and performer for such artists as Airto Moreira, Etta James, Flora Purim and Jim Messina.
Muñoz came to prominence with his 1996 USA debut release titled The Fruit of Eden. The recording achieved critical acclaim and put Muñoz in the hearts and minds of a new audience. Muñoz garnered additional praise after releasing Compassion in 1998, a sterling set that contained all original songs. His masterpiece Vida followed in 2004. Vida was pronounced as one of the 10 best recordings of the year by Latin Jazz Network. In 2006 Muñoz won the prestigious ACAM award in Costa Rica for Jazz Composer/Producer of the Year.
Keyboardist Luis Muñoz composed nine originals for his fifth CD as a leader, varying the instrumentation to give the listener a diverse experience of modern and traditional Latin music, though often with a few twists. In "Luz del Sur," the infectious theme detours at times to a modified mariachi setting, whereJonathan Dane's trumpet is complemented by John Nathan's marimba and Bill Flores' pedal steel guitar. Guest alto saxophonist David Binney fits in perfectly in Muñoz's world, appearing in the lively "Sobrevivencia." The leader even throws in a twist or two. His contemporary gospel vocal number "Hymn" featuring singer Lois Mahalia in a decidedly non-Latin setting, while the leader sits out the bittersweet ballad "Esperanza," which showcases classical guitarist Chris Judge (who overdubs a second line in spots) and bassist Tom Etchart. Wrapping the session is the elegant "Tango y Sangre de la Media Noche," featuring violinist Laura Hackstein, while Muñoz adds a bit of background color by overdubbing an alto flute and a synth line through a pad. Luis Muñoz's refreshing approach to Latin music should win him a wider audience.
Luis Muñoz is a man of many parts. Not only does he play several instruments, he composed, arranged and orchestrated all the music on this recording. His adaptability is further underscored by the scope of his writing that encompasses several styles all of which make an impact.
Muñoz, who was born in Costa Rica, played in rock and jazz groups in his native country before moving to the United States in 1974. He soon began writing music for documentaries, animation films, dance and theatre. His first compositional project, commissioned by the Government of Costa Rica, was Costa Rica —Costa Rica. It was not long thereafter that he signed with CBS Records and released La Verdad in 1988. Perhaps his most ambitious recording came in 2007 withOf Soul and Shadow (Pelin Music), on which his compositions captured Costa Rican folklore, classical music and jazz through the vision of 25 musicians.
Though he uses 23 musicians here, Muñoz breaks the conglomeration into units ranging from a duo to an octet. This serves his purpose well as he channels his music into the straits that make them stand up and sing—or, in the case of "Esperanza," glow with meditative beauty. Bassist Tom Etchart and classical guitarist Chris Judge not only understand the emotion of the tune but each other also, turning on the glow.
"Adam's Dream" switches the beat, dancing on a percussive bed that is stirred by the several instruments that Muñoz plays, over which trumpeter Jonathan Dane describes a dreamy arch. The latter mood is expanded by Muñoz, who unravels his ideas on piano in an illuminating and flowing stream. The arrangement adds to the overall ambience as it captures the instruments, giving a voice to each.
Two tunes featuring vocals juxtapose themselves as beacons of Muñoz's ease in different genres. The gospel inflected "Hymn" has an earthy vocal from Lois Mahalia, with Muñoz adding to the texture on piano. The sizzling Latin song, "Manantial," has a sassy vocal from Teka Pendiriche, with chromatic harmonicist Ron Kalina adding to the tang.
With Invisible, Muñoz has created a framework that dimensions his music in all of its beauty and essence.
Invisible (Pelin Music)
Listening to this recording, experiencing its warm embrace, I can only marvel that Luis Muñoz does not have wider visibility. The Costa Rican-born composer’s music begins with the subliminal qualities of his native roots, then blossoms into a creative expression that transcends boundaries reaching from jazz to classical to pop and beyond.
Invisible is an album in which atmosphere and emotion are central Each work takes the listener into new territories of emotional experience. Muñoz’s techniques are far reaching, choosing instrumental timbres in utterly unpredictable ways, searching for precisely the right combination of tones and textures to satisfy his creative goals.
In the opening “Adam’s Dream,” melody is doubled, unpredictably, by bass and trumpet. “Luz del Sur” simmers with a sub-divided 12/4 rhythm over which Jonathan Dane’s Miles Davis-inflected trumpet brings the counterpoint of urban sophistication to the roots qualities of John Nathan’s marimba.
David Binney’s adventurous alto saxophone takes center stage in “Sobre Vivencia,” at first over stirring, metrically shifting rhythms, then blending with the infectious rhythms of dancing percussion. The mood changes unexpectedly with the arrival of the spiritual phrases of Muñoz’s soulful “Hymn” – “Blessed are the ones who surrender to Love/For they’ll inherit the Kingdom of Heaven” — sung beautifully by Lois Mahalia.
“De Alma Y Sombra” begins with the feeling of a Bach chorale before evolving into a showcase for a lovely solo from pianist George Friedenthal, and “Esperanza” adds a quiet pastoral quality via a duet between bassist Tom Etchart and guitarist Chris Judge. A pair of vibrant pieces, “Malabarista” and “Manantial” bring more divergent sounds, the former with an upbeat trumpet and tenor melody suggesting the sound of the Jazz Messengers rambling over layered Latin jazz rhythms, the latter with Ron Kalina’s chromatic harmonica and a collection of rich vocal harmonies supporting Teka Pendiriche’s solo voice.
The extraordinary program ends with “Tango y Sangre de la Media Noche,” a long, affecting journey led by Laura Hackstein’s dramatic violin, enhanced by the tender backing of Muñoz’s gentle piano touches.
It’s a fitting climax to a program that never fails to entice one’s attention. But with the orientation of today’s music world, Invisible may be an unfortunately prophetic title, reflecting how much attention the album could receive, given the myopia of most major media toward new creative ideas. If so, that will be a shame. Muñoz is a talent who should be far more widely heard.
nvisible is the fifth release on the Pelin label from multi-instrumentalist and bandleader Luis Munoz, who also composed, arranged and orchestrated its nine tracks. The style is Afro-Latin jazz, featuring plenty of percussion instruments, many of them played by the leader. Latin rhythms underlay the contemporary sounding songs in an upbeat and catchy style. The majority of the songs feature excellent instrumentation and arrangements that make for an exciting listen.
There is a distinct flow to the album, from one song to the next a feeling of floating, or riding a wave of constant sound. Trumpeter Jonathan Dane introduces"Luz Del Sur" with eerie muted tones, building the dynamic around a mariachi-like marimba melody. The song—reminiscent of an Ennio Morricone composition from his Spaghetti Western period—breaks open in starts and stops, galloping to a grand finale punctuated by Dane's screaming trumpet.
"Hymn" takes on a gospel feel and adds generous measures of pop, soul and R&B sensibilities, its vocals heart-driven by soulful singer, Lois Mahalia. Munoz takes over on piano and lays down grand chords in glorious harmony with the singer.
David Binney rips on "Sobrevivencia," its open-ended, syncopated rhythm revolving around the altoist's imaginative runs. An orchestra of percussionists adds fine accompaniment, helping to create a feeling of urgency.
Invisible is a solid outing for Munoz, and a showcase for his abilities as a versatile producer and a multi-talented musician, full of creativity.
Few people would contradict the claim that Santa Barbara is a great place to live, but what about working here as an artist or, more particularly, as a musician? Can the city boast the same nurturing qualities that you hear about in Los Angeles and New York, or Portland, Seattle, and Austin? For Luis Muñoz, the answer is an emphatic “yes.” The Costa Rican-born drummer turned composer and part-time pianist has been a working musician in S.B. for 37 years, and his new CD,Invisible, is one of the most stylish, romantic, and fully realized suites of music of any released this year. And that’s not all. In addition to making great music himself, Muñoz puts many of the best musicians in town to work, both in his capacity as a composer and arranger of commercial work, and as members of the expansive musical family that manifests on his albums. This Thursday, April 29, Muñoz takes Invisible to the stage at SOhO with a band that features Jonathan Dane on trumpet, Brad Dutz on percussion and marimba, Tom Etchart on bass, George Friedenthal on piano, and Narciso Sotomayor on guitar.
Invisible, which is dedicated to “the poor … the sick … the homeless … the invisible ones,” could easily qualify as a jazz album, and will probably be reviewed and marketed as one, due to its virtuosic musicianship and lush, complex melodies. But the album, as the title and dedication suggests, is intended to be more things to more people than even the mighty soul-stirring forces of jazz could ever be. There’s a traditional gospel number, for instance, sung by Lois Mahalia, and several tunes where the distinctions between Latin, jazz, and such Brazilian forms as bossa nova and tropicalia dissolve altogether. As a drummer and trained composer (he studied music theory at UCSB), Muñoz demonstrates an unusual facility with mixing multiple musical elements. This alchemy is most evident on “Esperanza,” a heart-wrenching duet written for Etchart’s acoustic bass and the Chris Judge’s classical guitar, and “Tango y Sangre de la Media Noche,” a stunning nine-and-a-half-minute suite that melds tango with the Western classical tradition.
Behind “Tango y Sangre de la Media Noche” lies a method of composing that reflects the habits of a mature artist striving to achieve what Muñoz says he values most in music: “a kind of direct connection between the heart and the notes that come out at that moment.” When I asked him about the work, he told me that it was originally three separate works, “first a tango that got started seven years ago, then a contrapuntal classical piece in the manner of Bach, written very much according to the rules, and finally, a third piece that was just hard labor, something that I was rewriting over and over and still couldn’t finish. But then, one night around midnight, I broke through the block and ended up putting the third part together with the first two. It has a baroque theme, and it’s a reference to the blood of Christ. I was raised a Catholic, and even though I would not claim to be a religious man today, these things stay with you forever.”
Muñoz, who says that he has “never been away from music,” grew up in a family of composers. “My father had 17 brothers and sisters, and there was music in the house where I grew up all the time. Two of those relatives of mine are well-known composers in Costa Rica.” But for Muñoz, Santa Barbara is the place to be. “It makes a humongous difference to have a musical family like I do here in Santa Barbara after all these years,” he says. “I play with true friends, people I trust, and that makes it all so much better. I believe that we become isolated in our society today, and that the best music, the music made in this way, it brings us together and it unifies people.”
Monday, April 26, 2010
Acclaimed Costa Rican composer/producer/percussionist/pianist Luis Munoz's work has been rightfully hailed worldwide, with his previous two releases Vida (2004) and Of Soul and Shadow (2007) receiving excellent reviews and numerous awards. No doubt Munoz's latest release will continue to cement his reputation as one of the finest and most creative Latin Jazz artists alive, as Invisible is a luminous work full of beautiful subtlety and life spirit. The shimmering "Adam's Dream" starts this wonderful musical journey off with a peaceful, yet insistent pull - somewhat reminiscent of the relaxed vibe engendered by Danilo Perez and Claus Ogerman on Across a Crystal Sea. This delicious atmosphere continues on "Luz Del Sur" - which manages to merge island marimbas and percussion with pedal steel guitar and Ennio Morricone soundtrack trumpet (by Jonathan Dane) in a manner so natural you wonder why everyone doesn't do it. Munoz's production stars, and his arrangements are colorful and precise as a fine watercolor. "Sobrevivencia" is upbeat and somewhat more traditional Latin Jazz sounding (albeit with Munoz's complexities) and features the brilliant David Binney (a huge South and Central American music fan) on a slippery waterfall alto solo.
The rest of the album maneuvers nicely between twilight shades (with great nylon-string guitar work by Chris Judge) to original takes on modern Latin jazz (Ron Kalina's chromatic harmonica is a treat on "Marantial"), with even a delightful tango (with violin by Laura Hackstein and Munoz on piano and alto flute) to end the album. But perhaps the centerpiece of Invisible - which is dedicated to the sick, poor and homeless - the invisible among us - is the inspiring, gospel-influenced "Hymn" with Lois Mahalia on vocals - which offers up a soaring positive note of hope that is much appreciated in these dark times. One of my favorite albums so far this year.