Brian Arsenault’s Short Takes: CD Reviews of Luis Munoz, The Sweet Remains and Chris Potter

Of the Allure of Light, Harmony and Sirens (the dangerously beautiful ones)

By Brian Arsenault

Luis Munoz

Luz  (Pelin Music)

If she won’t kiss you while this plays and the lights are down, things just aren’t going to work out.

Percussionist, composer and arranger Luis Munoz in Luz (Light) brings us beautiful instrumentation, often in unique combinations, and two Latin singers to run away with if the girl above just won’t warm.

Laura Hackstein‘s violin, that sometimes sounds like an accordion (honest) plays duet with the round notes of Jonathan Dane’s trumpet on “Amarilis,”  Teka Peterniche holds notes so long and perfectly on “Al Silencio” that her voice morphs into a muted cornet. (There’s one of those on the album as well.)

Strengths come in twos a couple times on this album.  Magos Herrera is the other fine vocalist featured. She brings so much warmth to “Testamento/Mass Alla,” Munoz’s tribute to wife Holly Ann. This is where you should get at least one kiss.

On Vals De La Luz, one pianist takes the first solo and a different pianist the second.  How often have you heard that on a jazz album?

I’m resisting the perhaps not inaccurate description Latin jazz, because while Munoz was born in Costa Rica and certainly brings a Latin sensibility to his work, I always feel that such terms put music in a box.  OK, that’s Latin jazz and that’s African pop, and so on, is so inadequate in an age when musicians are affected by so many cross currents. I mean there’s a pedal steel guitar on this album.

And tell me, do Hackstein, Friedenthal and Judge sound like Latin names to you? Methinks Munoz picks his musicians for their depth, not their point of national origin.

The Sweet Remains

North & Prospect (Sweet Remains Inc.)

Sweet is the right name for this sorta folky rocky trio and their three part harmonies on North & Prospect.  Think sunny summer afternoon in your favorite park and some band somewhere between C,S&N and America (or acoustic Eagles) just seems to go right.

You hear all kinds of familiar touches with these guys.  A bit of Jackson Browne, a dash of Dicky Betts, a sprinkle of Hall & Oates.  But part way through it struck me that you hear bits of so many others because there just isn’t anything that distinctive going down.

A little edginess would also be welcome.

There are some fine tunes here, though. “1000 Little Pieces” is the closest thing to a true rocker and more of such on the album would have been welcome. C,S&N could cover this one to great effect.

“Sweet Love” is not saccharine, it’s longing. And they push the harmonic combinations more than on most of the tunes.  More of that also, please.

There’s also something curiously out of time about Sweet Remains.  Early 70s, yeah that’s it. Maybe they were born later than planned.

But the biggest miss on the album is their rendition of the Beatles/Lennon tune “Come Together.” I’d have thought they’d have chosen something more like “Blackbird.” They funk up “Come Together” a little bit but I was disinterested by the end as they seem to miss its psychedelic derelict edge.

As they say, “Don’t look too close because the cracks appear.” Still, I can feel that summer day and breathe in the air and the fine harmonies together and be pleased.

Chris Potter

The Sirens (ECM Records)

Well, how brave is it to take on Homer and his Odyssey in a modern jazz interpretation?  Pretty damn courageous, I’d say.

Of course with Ulysses’ journey one has to start with the sea, in this case the “Wine Dark Sea” that appears only right before or right after a storm. Wayfinder Hermes points the way to other ports in and out of the storm.

It’s the females of the Odyssey who get the most attention here.  The Sirens call, as does Penelope.  But for different reasons.

Kalypso uses her wiles to keep Ulysses on her island, some say for a year. others say for several. But bigger gods intervene and she must let him go.

And the more demure and reflective Nausikka, daughter of a king, admires brave Ulysses but knows he has to journey home, finally, to butcher the suitors and be reunited to the faithful Penelope.

Potter’s saxophone, as ably supported as Ulysses by his crew, tells all these stories and more.

A very serious recording but a richly beautiful one as well. And are there more of the books of the Odyssey ahead?

To read more reviews, posts and columns from Brian Arsenault click HERE

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