New CD Review: Luis Muňoz “VOZ” (Pelin Music)

September 11, 2015
Devon "Doc" Wendell

Devon “Doc” Wendell

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.

Magos Herrera

Magos Herrera

“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.

Luis Munoz

Luis Munoz

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.

Claudia Acuna

Claudia Acuna

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.

Voz will be released on Sept. 15.

* * * * * * * *

To read more posts, reviews and columns by Devon Wendell click HERE.

Live Jazz: The Ron Kalina Quartet at Vibrato Grill Jazz…etc.

August 16, 2012

By Don Heckman

Wednesday was another one of those mid-week jazz nights in L.A. A lot of choices about what to hear, with the usual freeway determinants – traffic and/or distance – playing a role in where to go.

But I also was in the mood to hear something a little unusual. And Ron Kalina’s harmonica jazz gig at Vibrato seemed like an intriguing choice, enhanced by the fine rhythm section team of guitarist Barry Zweig, bassist Pat Senatore and drummer Kendall Kay.

There was, however, one small problem. When I first started listening to jazz, the idea of jazz harmonica used to be as unappealing to me as the tinkly sound of the vibraphone. One of my visions of jazz hell at that time was a performance of a band co-led by a vibes player and a harmonica player. All of that changed, of course, as I became familiar with the work of, among many others,Toots Thielemans, Terry Gibbs, Milt Jackson and many others.

Barry Zweig, Pat Senatore, Ron Kalina, Kendall Kaye

I didn’t expect Kalina, performing before a fairly sparse gathering, to necessarily provide any major competition for those stellar figures. And, tp be perfectly honest, he didn’t. But what he did do was provide a pleasant evening of jazz tinged tunes, mostly from the Great American songbook. And he wisely shared much of the solo space with his back-up trio, occasionally livening things with a vocal.

Tunes such as “Laura,” “My Romance,” “They Can’t Take That Away From Me” and “It Could Happen To You” were delivered in a similar middle tempo groove, with Kalina’s harmonica lines moving smoothly from the original melodies to his own buoyant paraphrasing. On “I’m Old Fashioned,” Zweig stepped out to demonstrate his impressively inventive skills.

An uptempo version of “Bernie’s Tune,” a line often played by Gerry Mulligan, added more spice to the program. In contrast, there were some several atmospheric slow tunes – “The Very Thought of You,” “My One and Only Love” and “In The Wee Small Hours.” Kalina vocalized on several, mixing his sometimes foggy baritone lines with harmonica insertions, creating the classic feeling of a being in a jazz cabaret room.

That perception, in fact, underscored much of the music. Nothing wrong, of course, with reminding the listeners of what it was like to be in a 52nd St.  jazz bistro.  Especially when the music is being played with the enthusiasm and high spirits of Kalina and his prime time partners. In sum, a fine way to spend a Wednesday jazz night in L.A.

Photo by Bob Barry.

Picks of the Week: Aug. 14 – 19

August 13, 2012

By Don Heckman

Los Angeles

– Aug. 14 & 15. (Tues. & Wed.) Michael Jackson the Immortal World TourCirque du Soleil.  The music and lyrics of Michael Jackson are the foundation for a show that “immerses audiences in Michael’s creative world and literally turns his signature moves upside down,” performed by the incomparable artists of Cirque du Soleil.   Staples Center.   (213) 742-7100.

– Aug. 15. (Wed.)  Joe Cocker and Huey Lewis & The News.  A pair of still vitally active rock icons whose music reaches from the ‘60s to the present make for a rare evening of engaging musical memorabilia.  Greek Theatre.    (323) 665-5857.

– Aug. 15. (Wed.)  Ron Kalina Trio. He’s a virtuoso jazz harmonica player who also doubles on piano, with a resume including recordings with the likes of Linda Ronstadt, Joe Williams, Anita O’Day and dozens of others. Hear him in action, backed by guitarist Barry Zweig, bassist Pat Senatore and drummer Kendall KayVibrato Grill Jazz…etc.     (310) 474-9400.

Eddie Palmieri

– Aug. 15. (Wed.)  Eddie Palmieri, Ruben Blades.  A pair of legendary Latin jazz and salsa giants share the stage on a Wednesday jazz night at the Bowl, demonstrating first hand the exciting linkages between jazz and Latin dance rhythms. Hollywood Bowl.   (323) 850-2000.

– Aug. 15 – 18. (Wed. – Sat.)  Terence Blanchard Quintet. Critically praised trumpeter Blanchard takes a break from his busy schedule as a film composer, Artistic Director of the Thelonious Monk Institute and Director of the Henry Mancini Institute, to lead his Grammy-winning jazz group.  Catalina Bar & Grill.   (323) 466-2210.

– Aug. 16. (Thurs.)  De Temps Antan.  The Quebecois ensemble makes its West Coast debut, performing the traditional songs of French Canada.  Skirball Center.     (310) 440-4500.

– Aug. 17. (Fri.)  Wolff & Clark Expedition.  Pianist Michael Wolff’s credits reach from Cannoball Adderley. Sonny Rollins and others to a stint as the bandleader on the Arsenio Hall Show.  He’s backed by the stellar rhythm team of drummer Mike Clark and bassist Brian BrombergVitello’s.    (818) 769-0905.

– Aug. 17 & 18. (Fri. & Sat.)  Juanes with the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra.  Multiple Latin Grammy winning singer/songwriter/guitarist Juanes performs with the Youth Orchestra of Los Angeles, the Cal Voce Singers and the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra conducted by Thomas Wilkins.  And with fireworks, too.  Hollywood Bowl.    (323) 850-2000.

Sara Gazarek

– Aug. 18 & 19. (Sat. & Sun.)  Sara Gazarek.  At a time when jazz singers are arriving in waves, Gazarek is one of the rare few whose remarkable potential is apparent in everything she sings.  She celebrates her new album, Blossom & Bee with special guest keyboardist Larry Goldings and the backing of pianist Josh Nelson, bassist Hamilton Price and drummer Zach Harmon Vitello’s.    (818) 769-0905.

– Aug. 19. (Sun.)  Gerald Wilson Big Band.  Well into his nineties, Wilson remains one of the iconic figures of big band jazz.  And watching him in action with hits all-star group is one of the pleasures of experiencing live jazz.  Catalina Bar & Grill.   (323) 466-2210.

– Aug. 19. (Sun.)  Dudamel and Domingo.  The Hollywood Bowl’s pairing of charismatic classical music figures continues with Gustavo Dudamel and the Los Angeles Philharmonic joining for the first time with the great tenor Placido DomingoHollywood Bowl.   (323) 850-2000.

San Francisco

Benny Green

– Aug. 16. (Thurs.)  The Benny Green Trio.  A jazz professional as a teen-ager, pianist Green’s career has been expanding ever since, establishing him as one of the most imaginative and listenable players of his generation.  He’s backed by bassist Peter Washington and drummer Kenny WashingtonYoshi’s Oakland.    (510) 238-9200.


– Aug. 16 – 19. (Thurs. – Sun.)  Karrin Allyson. Grammy nominated singer-pianist Allyson brings rich layers musicality to everything she sings or plays.  Hopefully she’ll include some selections from her latest album, ‘Round Midnight.   Jazz Alley.    (201) 441-9729.


– Aug. 18. (Sat.)  Kenny Werner. Pianist Werner’s versatility – he is as adept at backing singers as he is at straight ahead jazz playing – no doubt traces to the mind-body techniques explored in his thoughtful book on improvisation, Effortless Mastery.  Regatta Bar.   (617) 661-5000.

New York

John Abercrombie

– Aug. 14 – 18. (Tues. – Sat.)  The John Abercrombie Quartet.  Always seeking adventurous new jazz combinations, Abercrombie’s latest group features saxophonist Joe Lovano, bassist Drew Gess and drummer Adam NussbaumBirdland.    (212) 581-3080.

– Aug. 14 – 19. (Tues. – Sun.)  Enfants Terribles.  Lee Konitz, Bill Frisell, Gary Peacock and Joey Baron. A stellar array of world-class jazz players celebrate their new CD, Enfants Terribles. The Blue Note.   (212) 475-8592.

– Aug. 16 – 19. (Thurs. – Sun.)  The Tierney Sutton Band.  Singer Sutton has been working with her band for nearly two decades, and the results are apparent in the extraordinary music they make together.  The Jazz Standard.  (212) 576-2561.


– Aug. 14 – 18. (Tues. – Sat.)  Roy Ayers. Vibraphonist Ayers has been, and continues to be, a pioneer in blending jazz with Afro-beat, funk and hip hop.  Ronnie Scott’s.   (0) 20 7439 0747.


Aug. 14 & 15.  Joyce.  Brazilian singer/songwriter/guitarist Joyce Moreno has been blending jazz with bossa nova since the late ‘60s.  Blue Note Tokyo.   03.5485.0088.

Eddie Palmieri photo by Tony Gieske. 

Here, There & Everywhere: Sing! Sing! Sing!

December 23, 2011

By Don Heckman

Christmas caroling was a regular seasonal activity in my young life.  Growing up in an Eastern Pennsylvania rust belt city, singing carols while slip-sliding our way across icy sidewalks was as necessary to the holiday as going to Mass on Christmas eve.  In a way, it was an equally necessary counter to the darker side of what we’d done on Halloween, when enacting tricks was a lot more common than  asking for treats.

All of which went through my mind last night when Faith and I took our lovely ten year old granddaughter, Maia, to the Victorian Mansion for “Candlelight Carols” by Judy Wolman, Howard Lewis and “Sing! Sing! Sing!”  And one couldn’t have asked for a more delightfully atmospheric setting to join in a holiday music singalong than the elegant wood-paneled room that jazz fans will recall as the former site of the much-missed jazz club, “The Vic.”

At the beginning, Wolman reminded me that she, Lewis and their group of singers had been doing these holiday celebrations for 20 years.  Not only that, of course, but also their continuing programs of participatory jaunts through the rich musical landscape of the Great American Songbook.  (Programs devoted to Irving Berlin, Jerome Kern, Johnny Mercer, Hoagy Carmichael and others are already scheduled for 2012.)

The “Candlelight Carols” program characteristically reached out to embrace the Songbook – with selections from Irving Berlin, Frank Loesser, Rodgers & Hammerstein, etc. — as well as a collection of traditional carols.  And the format was as comfortable and inviting as a holiday evening in a close friend’s living room.

Lewis introduced each number with some fascinating background, often including nuggets of insight into the song, as well as its creators.  Then Wolman — a superb piano accompanist, backed by Chris Conner’s bass, Dick Weller’s drums and some warm melody-making from harmonica player Ron Kalina – led the way into the song.


The audience, using lyric sheets provided by Wolman, sang along enthusiastically, sometimes even more than that.  And our granddaughter, Maia, not especially familiar with all the standards, nonetheless applied her already burgeoning musicality to every song, singing, smiling, enjoying every minute of this engaging new experience.

And what a collection of songs it was: “It’s Beginning To Look Like Christmas,” “Silver Bells,” “My Favorite Things,” “White Christmas,” “Sleigh Ride,” “Winter Wonderland,” “The Christmas Song,” “What Are You Doing New Year’s Eve?”  As well as “Silent Night,” “We Three Kings,” “The First Noel” and much, much more.

Between the singalong segments, individual singers from the Sing! Sing! Sing! vocal ensemble – Chuck Marso, Anita Royal, Jackie Manfredi and Ruth Davis – soloed.  And songwriter Jim Mann presented a brand new Christmas song, “Cheers! Cheers! Cheers!”

The sidewalks weren’t icy, and there was no snow in the forecast as we left the Victorian.  But the wind was blowing, and, as we walked hand in hand to our car, the words to one of the evening’s songs – with their perfect holiday sentiments — kept coming to mind.

           “The wind is blowing

           But I can weather the storm

            What do I care how much it may storm?

            I’ve got my love to keep me warm.”

Picks of the Week: August 2 – 7

August 2, 2011

By Don Heckman

Los Angeles

– Aug. 2 (Tues.) Yes and Styx. Two of the classic rock franchises — still going strong — team up for a display of some of the archetypal music of the ’70s and ’80s. The Greek Theatre.  (323) 665-5857.

Jessica Molasky and John Pizzarelli

– Aug. 3 – 7. (Wed. – Sun.) John Pizzarelli and Jessica Molasky. Collectively and individually, the married team of singer/guitarist Pizzarelli and vocalist Molasky make for one of the jazz world’s most entertaining acts. Capable of generating the humor of the great husband and wife teams of the past, they also bring a rare blend of musicality to their singing and playing that is uniquely their own. Catalina Bar & Grill. (323) 466-2210.

– Aug. 3 – 7. (Wed. – Sun.) Clarinet Fest 2011. Everything you ever wanted to know about the clarinet, or hear about the clarinet will undoubtedly take place in this large assemblage of programs and seminars. Clarinet ensembles of every stripe will perform.  Among the many highlights are performances on Sunday by the Eddie Daniels Quintet and the Clare Fischer Clarinet Choir. But there are numerous others, from many other parts of the world. Clarinet Fest 2011 in the Valley Performing Arts Center at CalState Northridge.

– Aug. 4. (Thurs.) Ron Kalina’s Birthday Bash. Versatil jazz harmonica player Kalina — who also plays piano, leads a celebratory evening of music to remember. He’s backed by vibist Gino Antonachi, bassist Pat Senatore and drummer Ryan Doyle. Vibrato Jazz Grill…etc.  (310) 474-9400.

– Aug. 4. (Thurs.) Hippiefest. The annual installment of music from the peace, love and rock ‘n’ roll generation returns for the sixth time. The headliners are Dave Mason (Traffic), Mark Farner (Grand Funk Railroad), Rick Derringer, Felix Cavaliere’s Rascals and Gary Wright. The Greek Theatre.  (323) 665-5857.

– Aug. 4. (Thurs.) Yemen Blues. The Skirball’s always entertaining, free Sunset Concerts continue with an appearance by a band that produces a steaming gumbo of music spiced with elements of jazz, blues, Jewish melodies and African grooves. Don’t plan to sit still when this band starts to kick it. Skirball Center.  (310) 440-4500.

Annie Sellick

– Aug. 6. (Sat.) Annie Sellick. Her bold, assertive style, blended with occasional touches of vulnerability make Sellick an appealing singer — one whose work warrants a wider hearing than she seems to be receiving. Steamers.  (714) 871-8800.

– Aug. 6. (Sat.) Judy Wexler. Critically praised jazz vocalist Wexler celebrates the release of her third CD, Under A Painted Sky, backed by some of the stellar players on the album — pianist/arranger Alan Pasqua, guitarist Larry Koonse, saxophonist Bob Sheppard, bassist Darek Oles and drummer Steve Hass. Vitello’s.  (818) 769-0905.

San Francisco

– Aug 5 – 7. (Fri. – Sun.) Los Van Van. It’s been more than four decades since Juan Formell organized the fusion Cuban band Los Van Van. Expanding on the traditional charanga style, instrumentally as well as the choice of material, he created a band that continues to provide musical thrills at every performance. Yoshis Oakland.  (510) 238-9200.

Turtle Island String Quartet

– Aug. 7. (Sun.) Turtle Island String Quartet. When the Turtle Islanders first posited the notion that the members of a string quartet — if they possessed the right blend of talent and imagination — could play with the creative liberation of a jazz group, it seemed a radical idea. (Despite the fact that their goal also included reviving the improvisation that had been for centuries a fundamental part of classical music as well.) But they’ve made their case convincingly, winning Grammy awards and opening an expressive pathway that more ensembles should explore. Yoshi’s San Francisco.  (415) 655-5600.


Aug. 4 – 7. (Thurs. – Sun.) Bill Frisell. Ever on the trail of another musical idea, Frisell’s Beautiful Dreamers features violinst Eyvind Kang and drummer Rudy Royston in a challenging, but potentially productive musical setting. Jazz Alley.  (206) 441-9729.


Charles McPherson

Aug. 4 – 7. (Thurs. – Sun.) Charles McPherson. It’ll be an evening of Charlie Parker revisited when McPherson steps on stage. But not in an imitative sense. McPherson’s connection with Parker is inspirational, and the results are always musically compelling. Jazz Showcase.  (312) 360-0234.

New York

-Aug. 2 – 4. (Tues. – Thurs.) McCoy Tyner expands his usual trio format to a quintet featuring the two saxophone front line tenorist Ravi Coltrane and alto Gary Bartz. And it’s hard to imagine a more compatible assemblage of world class players. Birdland.  (212) 581-3080.

– Aug. 3. (Wed.) The Center for Improvisational Music. Trumpeter Ralph Alessi, alto saxophonist Tim Berne, pianist Kris Davis, bassist Michael Formanek and drummer Gerald Cleaver — present and former faculty members — celebrate the 10th anniversary of the School for Improvised Music’s pioneering work in the exploration of the art of improvisation. Cornelia St. Cafe.  (212) 989-9319.


Claire Martin

– Aug. 4 (Thurs.) Claire Martin. She’s often described as England’s best jazz singer, which may well be true. But Martin is more than that — a versatile performer with the capacity to find the inner life of whatever she sings in whatever style. She appears with the Richard Rodney Bennett/Bobby Wellins Quartet. Ronnie Scott’s.  020 7439 0747.


– Aug. 2 – 5. (Tues. – Fri.) Joyce with special guest Sergio Santos. Singer/songwriter Joyce — who now occasionally also uses her last name, Moreno, has been a highly visible figure in Brazilian music since the MPB era. Still an engaging performer, she appears here with the gifted guitarist/songwriter/singer Santos, whose talents are still too little known in the U.S. The Blue Note Tokyo.  03-5485-0088.

Picks of the Week: Nov. 22 – 28

November 22, 2010

By Don Heckman

Los Angeles

Nov. 22. (Mon.)  Judy Wolman’s Thanksgiving Sing-a-longGreat American Songbook. Here’s a chance to be thankful for Cole Porter, the Gershwins, Rodgers & Hart, etc.  While having a lot more fun singing than you ever could in the shower.  Vitello’s. (818) 769-0905.

– Nov. 23. (Tues.)  Jimmy Branley Quartet.  Drummer Branley combines versatility, musicality and a rare degree of subtlety in his playing.  He usually displays those skills for other leaders.  This time, he’s the front man.  With Walter Smith, saxophone, Dennis Hamm, piano and Jorge Sawa, bass.  Charlie O’s.   (818) 994-3058.

John Pisano

– Nov. 23. (Tues.)  John Pisano Guitar Night.  Every guitar night is a night worth experiencing.  And this one’s no exception, with Pisano exchanging musical ideas with the busy, veteran guitarist Jim Fox. Bassist Bob Bain keeps the rhythm cooking. Vitello’s.   (818) 769-0905.

– Nov. 24. (Wed.)  Ron Kalina.  Jazz on the harmonica isn’t something one hears frequently.  So don’t miss Kalina – an authentic jazz harmonica player – in this too-rare club appearance.  Backing him, the solid duo of bassist Pat Senatore and guitarist Barry Zweig.  Vibrato Grill Jazz…etc.   (310) 474-9400.

– Nov. 24. (Wed.) 17th Annual Turkey Bash.  Featuring Evan Stone and the Translucent Ham Sandwich Band. Don’t let their whimsical title fool you.  The Ham Sandwich Band has some interesting things to say musically.   Steamers (714) 871-8800.

– Nov. 26 & 27. (Fri. & Sat.)  Jack Sheldon Orchestra celebrating Jack’s Birthday.  Sheldon, the Southland’s own trumpet-playing, vocalizing, sardonic raconteur, turns 79 on the 30th.  Help him celebrate.  Catalina Bar & Grill. (323) 466-2210.

– Nov. 27. (Sat.)  Janis Mann.  Mann’s deep, dark-toned voice and far-ranging musical ideas bring new life to everything she sings.  She’s backed by John Heard, bass, Roy McCurdy, drums, tba piano.  An additional benefit: the performance celebrates McCurdy’s birthday.  Charlie O’s.  (818) 994-3058.

Anna Mjoll

– Nov. 28. (Sun.)  Anna Mjoll.  Iceland’s gift to smooth and sultry jazz singing displays her skill with the subtleties of the Great American Songbook.  Backing her: Ed Zach, piano, Pat Senatore, bass, Bob Leatherbarrow, drums.   Vibrato Grill Jazz…etc. (310) 474-9400.

San Francisco

– Nov. 26 – 28. (Fri. – Sun.)  Tuck & Patti.  The inimitable guitar and voice duo continue their 11 year tradition at Yoshi’s San Francisco. (415) 655-5600.

– Nov. 26 – 28. (Fri. – Sun.)  Ahmad Jamal.  Miles Davis credited Jamal with his use of rhythmic time, and the veteran pianist is still demonstrating the essentials of how to swing.  Yoshi’s Oakland.   (510) 238-9200.

New York

– Nov. 23 – 25. (Tues. – Thurs.)  Monty Alexander Quintet.  Pianist Alexander continues to invest his impressive jazz chops with a healthy seasoning of sounds and rhythms from his native Jamaica.  With singer James De FrancisBirdland.   (212) 581-3080.

– Nov. 23 – 28. (Tues. – Sun.)  Ken Peplowski/Bucky Pizzarelli Quintet.  Clarinetist Peplowski and guitarist Pizzarelli, masters of their instruments and their musical art, team up for a seminar in world class jazz.  Dizzy’s Club Coca-Cola.   (212) 258-9595.

Kendra Shank

Nov. 26 (Fri.)  Kendra Shank.  Vocalist Shank, always a fascinating performer, always opening new musical possibilities, is never better than she is when she’s in a cozy room with empathic musical backing.  Her partners are Ben Monder, guitar, Cameron Brown, bass, Tony Moreno, drums.  55 Bar. (212) 929-9883.

– Nov. 26 – 28. (Fri. – Sun.)  Bill Charlap Trio.  Continuing his exploration of the still unrevealed possibilities of the jazz piano trio, Charlap embarks into new territories with the support of Peter Washington, bass and Kenny Washington, drums.  The Blue Note. (212) 475-8592.

Jazz CD Reviews: Luis Munoz and Jon Gold

May 25, 2010

By Don Heckman

Luis Munoz

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.

Jon Gold

Brazil Confidential (Zoho)

The first minutes of “Alem Do Azul,” the first of twelve original compositions by pianist Jon Gold, make it clear that this is an album that demands attention.  The combination of floating rhythmic undercurrents from Gold’s seven piece ensemble, blended with soaring flute work from Jorg Continentino, announce that a uniquely fascinating mixture of Brazil and jazz is in the works.

But that’s just the start.  As the tracks unfold, the momentum reaches in one direction, then another.  “Funky Jabour” showcases saxophonists Anat Cohen and Bryan Murray over a driving rhythmic groove.  “Teresinha” dips into bossa nova, followed by even more bossa in Tatiana Parra’s singing on “Confissao,” and Leah Siegel’s intimate, wordless vocals on “”Paraty” and “Parazen” (with guitarist “Scottinho” Anderson leading the way).

Other tunes further display Gold’s compositional vitality: the surging melodies of “Carioca Da Clara,” the quirky, off-beat sounds and rhythms of “Vitamin B,” and the Brazilian bebop of “Parafuso A Menos” (sparked by Cohen’s driving clarinet). Add to that the balladry of  “Singela” (featuring Katie Scheel’s English horn) and the emotional twists and turns of the suite-like “Rapadura,” topped off with Gold’s lyrical re-imagining of Janacek’s Suite No. 4.

It’s fascinating, all of it – compelling because it presents a musical imagination that has been inspired by the culture of Brazil without superficially attempting to imitate it.  And that’s a true rarity.


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