"This recommended album rocks hard while highlighting the cultural background that makes Latin Jazz the emotional tool that has captured our heart and soul. This one brings out the goose bumps!"
TOP FIVE LATIN, BLUES, AND BEYOND OF 2007
- Maria, Muldaur, Naughty Bawdy & Blue (Stony Plain)
- Luis Muñoz, Of Soul and Shadow (Pelin Music)
- Robert Plant and Alison Krauss, Raising Sand (Rounder)
- Bruce Springsteen, Magic (Columbia)
- Papo Vazquez Pirates Troubadours, From the Badlands (Picaro)
On his fourth CD and second for his own indie label Pelin Music, the versatile and innovative pianist, percussionist and composer Luis Munoz again spreads the melodic, densely rhythmic joy across Latin America (he's a native of Costa Rica), Brazil, the tropics and -- during those cool, more traditional jazz moments -- the innovative streets of New York. While ensembling seamlessly and energetically with longtime cohorts like Nico Carmine Abondolo (acoustic bass), Randy Tico (bass), Tom Buckner (saxes) and Adolfo Acosta (trumpet), Munoz also invited some exciting new guests to the sessions near his home in Santa Barbara, CA: Rámses Araya (Rubén Blades), trombonist Ira Nepus (Diana Krall) and hot NYC saxman David Binney. With those talents surrounding his own melodic invention and use of fanciful percussion instruments, Munoz could easily overpower the listener, but he gets off to a more subtle start, with Gilberto Gonzalez's graceful acoustic guitar melody over an hypnotic keyboard harmony -- and then John Nathan's jumpy island marimba kicks in, followed by Binney's intense sax solo. Munoz opens "Verde 'Mundo Infinito" with a taste of home, sampling the Costa Rican rainforest for a moment and then duetting with himself on percussion and marimba as a prelude to a snazzy brass-driven Latin jam. "La Semilla" keeps the percussion and horns maneuvering behind Jonathan Dane's lyrical trumpet melody; then, just as the party gets going, Munoz offers a moody surprise on "Al Silencio," a trio piece enhanced by Ron Kalina's chromatic harmonica; he goes the same route on the lush and dreamy "Mas Alla," a dedication to his wife. On the quickie interlude "Luz del Sur," Munoz fashions a new hybrid one might call "surf rock/country/tropical music" with the help of Bill Flores on pedal steel. "La Verdad" is multicultural in a different way, with South African flavored rolling guitars and horn accents behindAndy Zuñiga's Spanish vocals. The fun part of indie jazz projects like these is that there's no corporate power to answer to that might question the artistic wisdom of a haunting orchestral piece after a mariachi-spiced dance tune. With this collection, Munoz takes the concept of eclecticism to a whole new and exciting level. 3 1/2 stars!!!
Costa Rican keyboardist-percussionist Muñoz has painted a loving, kaleidoscopic portrait of his homeland, combining several strains of jazz performance into a folkloric framework. A large, rotating cast of musicians evokes lush rainforest, busy urban centers, relaxed country life or scenes of nostalgic romance with ease, and while it can seem a bit scattershot at times (or even contrived when Muñoz relies a bit too much on overdubs), tunes like the dance machine “La Verdad” or the too-short “Luz Del Sur” are terrific.
Percussionist Luis Munoz, has been “hiding in plain sight” in the music world for over two decades. A native of Costa Rica, Munoz has been in the U.S. for 30 years now, composing music for dance, theater, documentaries, animated films, and commercial jingles for Radio and TV. He has also paid his dues by working as a producer, arranger and percussionist for an eclectic group of artists, such as Airto Moreira, Etta James, Flora Purim and Jim Messina. He has also recorded and released six discs under his own name since 1988, all of them delving into facets of the wide variety of musical influences that he was exposed to in his formative years in Costa Rica. In his biography, Munoz speaks of absorbing musical styles from all over Central America, as well as from North and South America. Tangos, sambas, bossa nova, calypso, mambo, bomba, montuno and many other styles influenced the way Munoz heard and felt rhythms. He was also exposed early on to Miles, Trane, Monk and Dolphy; Ravel, Chopin and Bach. Then, to top it off, as someone who was a teenager in the ‘60’s, Munoz could not help but hear and be influenced by The Beatles and other “British Invasion” groups. All of these diverse influences have come together to create a the unique sound that Munoz brings us on his latest disc, Of Soul and Shadow, which was recently released by Pelin Music.
Each track on Of Soul and Shadow emphasizes a different facet of Munoz’s musical personality, but always with small doses of other influences. For example, you will hear a calypso influence in a samba, and a samba will influence a mambo and so on. It makes for very exciting listening, as nothing is ever quite what you think it will be. Munoz uses a rotating group of sidemen that will change from track to track, depending on the type of sound that he’s looking for. Munoz himself appears on, by my count, twenty-four different instruments, ranging from piano, to samplers, to a mélange of different Latin American percussion instruments. It makes it a little tough to keep up with who is appearing on which track, but who cares? Musically, they work like a well-oiled machine. The guests include Dave Binney, an alto sax player, well known on the East Coast for his avant-garde work; Ron Kalina, a harmonica player, who has done quite a bit of studio work with pop songstress Linda Ronstadt, among others; pianist Bruce Bigenho, a veteran of some of Munoz’s previous work, as well as some work with Airto and veteran studio guitarist, Bill Flores.
The musical highlights include three selections that feature Kalina’s excellent, Toots Thielemans-inspired solos on chromatic harmonica: the straight ahead, late-night jazz of “Al Silencio,” which also features good piano work by George Friedenthal; “Mas Alla” a bolero, on which Kalina’s harmonica seems to sing a counterpoint to Munoz’s piano and “Paz,” with a haunting, string washed arrangement and beautiful harp work by Sang Nevins, backing a wistful Kalina solo. Mr. Kalina’s harmonica playing definitely deserves wider recognition. “Paso a Paso” is another standout, with its churning Latin rhythm and a mix of so many different sounds that I was almost giddy as my ear tried to keep up. Binney’s alto work is superb, as is John Nathan’s marimba and Nico Abondolo’s driving bass line. Binney is back for more on the hard charging “Verde Mundo Infinito,” which includes samples of sounds from the Costa Rican Rainforest to set the atmosphere, before Munoz’s multi-tracked percussion and staccato horn blasts from Tom Buckner and Jonathan Dane, set the stage for Binney to blow chorus after chorus of incendiary sax. The one maddening thing about the two tracks that feature Binney is that they both have fadeouts. These were both great jams that were just hitting their stride when the fade comes in. It’s a minor complaint, but considering that the disc clocks in at around 50 minutes, it made me wonder why a fade was necessary. One more track that I have to mention is “La Semilla,” a red hot Latin Jazz number, which is elevated by great horn work in the ensemble parts, by Dane and Buckner and in the solos by Adolfo Acosta on trumpet and Ira Nepus on trombone. Although there is no fade this time, the song is again, frustratingly short; then again, I suppose that it’s better to leave your audience wanting more than to overstay your welcome.
Minor quibbles about song length aside; Luis Munoz’s Of Soul and Shadow is a very fine disc. I would not call it Latin Jazz, because that description would be quite limiting and even a bit inaccurate. Let’s say instead that Munoz has created a unique hybrid that fuses some of the best elements of a range of Latin American musical styles, to the best elements of jazz instrumental soloing. Some of you may say “Well, isn’t that Latin Jazz?” Generally, the answer is “yes.” In this case however, it’s “no.” This is an enigmatic statement, I will admit. It’s probably best clarified by listening to Of Soul and Shadow.