By Devon Wendell
Costa Rican composer and percussionist Luis Muňoz is one of the most vibrant and dedicated Latin jazz artists on the scene today. His new album VOZ is an obvious labor of love which fuses Brazilian jazz, and “crossover” pop. But there’s a refreshing purity about VOZ. Muňoz is joined by special guests: Claudia Acuňa, Magos Herrera, and Téka on vocals.
“Preludio Y Fin” is a beautiful jazz ballad. Magos Herrera’s delicate and mournful vocal phrasing is complimented by Adam Asarnow’s thoughtful and masterful piano accompaniment. Jonathan Dane’s trumpet style here is reminiscent of Miles Davis’ finest ballad recordings of the late 1950s. Muňoz’s brush work on the drums is subtle and absolutely superb. A stunning piece of music.
“Manantial” features the incomparable Téka, one of the most original and powerful vocalist/guitarists to come out of Brazil in many years. She is featured on both lead and backing vocals. Her breathy, sensual vocals glide beautifully atop of Ron Kalina’s chromatic harmonica lines. No one sounds like Téka. Muňoz’s sensitive drumming and colorful texturing on the Fender Rhodes piano adds depth and complexity to this “crossover” pop composition.
“Argentina” was written by Nicaraguan lyricist Luis Enrique.
Jonathan Dane’s Flugelhorn is melodically and harmonically complex. Magos Herrera’s vocals are poignant and plaintive. Brendan Statom’s acoustic bass lines weave in and out of the melody like a wonderful dream.
Muňoz plays it cool, maintaining a mostly subordinate role in the overall band sound. This is a haunting piece of music but not as darkly stunning as the instrumental “Journey Into Saint Augustine.” Daniel Zimmerman’s acoustic guitar dances around Jonathan Dane’s muted flugelhorn phrasing, while Brendan Statom’s bass lines keep it all together. A lovely musical dance among three amazing musicians.
“Pasiόn” was written by the great Panamanian lyricist Romulo Castro. No one can turn a phrase like Téka and this composition is further proof of her amazing skills. Téka’s longtime guitarist Chris Judge accompanies her every nuance perfectly. Ron Calina’s harmonica lines almost sound like a great alto-sax player.
Trumpeter Jonathan Dane is one of the brightest stars on this album. His tone echoes Freddie Hubbard’s on “Testamento/Mas Alla” and Magos Herrera’s lead vocals are subdued, controlled, and full of melancholy.
Most of the album has a sad and mournful feel to it. “Amarilis” will bring tears to your eyes. It’s just a quartet performance consisting of Jonathan Dane, trumpet, Luis Muňoz, melodica, Brendan Statom, bass, and Daniel Zimmerman, on acoustic guitar. Muňoz’s melodica playing is perfectly in tune (a rarity for this instrument) and tasteful.
Téka’s rich vibrato and melodic phrasing on “Quisiera” (co-written by Jaime Gamboa) is the highlight of the entire album. Téka shares the lead vocal spot with Claudia Acuňa. Jonathan Dame’s trumpet follows every breathtaking twist and turn of the vocals with taste and purpose. Chris Judge’s guitar accompaniment is sweet and thematic.
The album closes with “Amanecer Luminoso”, written by Costa Rican poet Osvaldo Sauma. This is a sweet but stark lullaby, a piano-vocal duo. Magos Herrera’s tender vocals are accompanied by some very subtle piano comping by Adam Asarmow.
Luis Muňos’ VOZ is a beautifully pure album of some romantically dark and sincere Latin jazz at its best. Muňoz plays more of a background role, letting fantastic artists like Teka, Claudia Acuňa, and Magos Herrera shine on this carefully crafted masterpiece.