OF SOUL AND SHADOW – Pelin Music PEL2007. P.O. Box 30943; Santa Barbara, CA 93130. Web: www.luismunoz.com Paso A Paso; Verde Mundo Infinito; La Semilla; Al Silencio; Luz Del Sur; La Verdad; Mas Alla; El Vedado; Paz; Adam’s Dream
PERSONNEL: Luis Munoz, piano, electric piano, synthesizer, bombo leguero, shekere, caxixi, cajon, drums, samples, marimba, ride cymbal, clave, bells, guira, timbales, bongo, cymbals, chime, cencerro, alto flute, gong, djembe; nico abondolo, acoustic bass; Ramses Araya, Bata drums; Dave Binney, alto sax; George Friedenthal, piano; Gilberto Gonzalez, acoustic guitars; John Nathan, marimba; Tom Buckner, tenor sax, alto sax, soprano sax; Robert Clements, shekere; Jonathan Dane, trumpets; Randy Tico, bass;
Adolfo Acosta, trumpets; Ramses Araya, congas, bongo, timbales, tambora, bata drums;
Tom Etchart, acoustic bass, fretless bass; Ira Nepus, trombones; Ron Kalina, chromatic harmonica; Bill Flores, pedal steel guitar, tres; Bruce Bigenho, piano; Narciso Sotomayor, guitars; Gil Valencia, background vocals; Andy Zuniga, lead vocals, background vocals; Josefina Abaondolo, violins, violas; Laura Hackestein, violins, violas
Claudia Kaiser, cello; Sang Nevins, harp
By Curtis Davenport
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.