ACAM AWARD "Jazz Composer of the Year 2006"

It is, simply put, one of the best Latin jazz ventures of the year...Brilliantly conceived and beautifully executed, Vida is a vital testimony to Luis Muñoz's artistic genius. Indispensable! **** (4 stars).” - Todd S. Jenkins

— DownBeat Magazine

Born and raised in San José, Costa Rica, Luis Muñoz experienced music as the everyday pursuit of his father's family (18 siblings, each a musician), who gathered every Sunday to play together. Muñoz played in rock bands as a youth, studied music and architecture at the University of Costa Rica, then moved north to earn a degree in composition at the University of California, Santa Barbara. Based there ever since, working as a composer, arranger percussionist and keyboardist, he draws on a stable of able studio players and a diverse instrumental array on Vida, his third U.S. release. Muñoz brings an orchestral sensibility to the studio, informed by a broad interest in Latin American folk and popular genres, European classical strains (he cites Bach, Chopin, Ravel and Stravinsky as prime influences), and jazz, both Afro-Latin and North American.” - Michael Stone


Vida is the latest offering from Costa Rican percussionist and composer Luis Muñoz. The music within is lush and inviting, gliding gracefully over an almost constantly moving stream of bubbling percussion. Throughout, Muñoz impresses as much with his arrangements and orchestrations as he does with his instrumental prowess and compositions.   With a tight, multi-part construction, the opening "Mad Bop recalls late period Weather Report, especially when Randy Tico's fretless bass cuts through the mix. "Seveneves boasts some novel instrumentation, opening with lilting phrases from Bill Flores' pedal steel guitar before winding its way to some near Middle Eastern-sounding violin work from Charlie Bisharat. It's a bold musical transition that never seems anything but logical when you are listening to it. Elsewhere, "Between Birth And Dying features a more stripped-down ensemble in which piano, violin, cello, and accordion seem to debate some weighty issues. The violin and cello have more gravitas, but the wit of the accordion renders it the final word.   There is a deep and feverish imagination at work throughout Vida, revealing itself in unexpected instrumentation and twisting arrangements that blur whatever genre DNA runs through the compositions. It should be added with emphasis that the album is a lot of fun, to a certain degree because you have no idea what is coming next. Track Listing: Mad Bop; Journey Of Saint Augustine; Seveneves; Between Birth And Dying; Carmesi; Myth And Resurrection; Pasion; Mercedes En Reposo; Palito; Los Ojos De La Ausencia” - STEPHEN LATESSA


As adept as Luis Muñoz is at various percussion instruments, keyboards and piano included, the versatility and sensibility of his writing are also showcased on Vida. He braids various Latin American styles to form an attractive jazzy Bo Derek-like musical hairdo of sorts that travels well in various contexts. Whether it be as background music at home or work, as radio features, driving music, or even for partying with abandon, this compact disc has various delightful alternatives to please even the most exigent taste. Journey of Saint Augustine does convey a characteristic sense of movement, with an Argentinean nostalgic air well served by its instrumentation, which includes both accordion and harmonica, as well as acoustic guitar. This composition, however, does not rely on the sensuality rightly associated with tango—for that you could attend to "Between Birth and Dying. The emotive core of "Journey of Saint Augustine is, nonetheless, just as dramatic and "saintly as any tango-inspired piece. Simple, effective and pleasantly profound, which, expectedly, could subsume the rest of the music from this release. Myth and Resurrection is a vivid and tight Afro-Cuban 6/8 percussive buildup highlighted by engaging trumpet and reed riffs that anchor the ever-evolving gaseous mysterious elements, present in the reed soloing, and the atmospheric context, brought about by the use of synthesizers and a pedal steel guitar. "Mad Bop, where Muñoz solos on timbales, is a bebop Afro-Cuban guaguancó with smartly conceived bridges and changes, as well as brief but superb solos. Much the same can be said about "Palito. A vocal version of "Pasión, which Muñoz had already rendered instrumentally, with lyrics from fellow Centro American poet Rómulo Castro, titivates this recording. Lead vocalist Téka Penteriche is just too much while interpreting its Brazilian mellowness. Venezuelan joropo lies behind "Mercedes in reposo, which, once again on this recording—ethnicity of the attending genres notwithstanding—argues for the depth of simple beauty for its own musical sake. It would bring the house down if interpreted live in the Sabana Grande area or Caricuao quarter of Caracas!” - By JAVIER AQ ORTIZ,


This is strong Latino bebop nailed down by composer Luis Munoz's forceful original music & his Latin culture. A lot of influences pervade Munoz's project, i.e. 'Miles' "Bird' et al. Luis writes with a rhythmic subtlety, exacting his many timbres of sound-ideas through his sidemen.......Producing a vital sense of musical poignancy .........Yet.....This disc swings as well! This is a composer who experiments with free technical innovation & adventurous musical patterns.......Showing the incredible panoply of original music & viable composers, now residing in this wondrous country of ours. I have to add too, that Luis Munoz takes us to the outer limits of his wonderful musical imagination with this, his new CD project, 'Vida.'” - George W. Carroll


Luis Munoz is a brilliant composer/arranger/percussionist born in Costa Rica in 1953 and a resident of Santa Barbara, California for the past 30 years. Vida, recorded in Santa Barbara in 2003, is simply one of the most tantalizing, brilliant and enjoyable discs of the year. From the opening trumpet/saxophone explosion of "Mad Bop," with its busy percussion unpinning Jonathan Dane’s Miles-like muted trumpet with Randy Tico’s fretless bass work, ala Jaco Pastorious, Vida is a recording that demands attention. Tempos on this piece (as well as throughout the disc) run the gamut, from Adam Asarnow’s tender piano to the percussive arsenal played by Munoz, with Kevin Winard (Sergio Mendes) aiding and abetting. On the following ""Journey of Saint Augustine," Munoz offers the first of many examples of his fresh compositional and arranging skills in teaming Ron Kalina’s superb chromatic harmonica with Brian Mann’s accordion. Following a delightful guitar (Chris Judge) and acoustic bass (Nico Abondolo) set-up, the harp and accordion take the piece on a gypsy holiday by means of a deceptively simple folk melody created by Munoz’s complex layered arrangement. "Seveneves" has a bit of a gypsy tone as well. It’s also another example of Munoz’s unique way with unusual voicings. Here are Charlie Bisharat’s violin and Tom’s Buckner’s expressive soprano sharing space with synthesizer (George Friedenthal), pedal steel guitar (Bill Flores) and percussion. Between Birth and Dying," the emotional core of the CD, is notable for it extraordinarily passionate gypsy accordion and violin, Andrew Smith’s deep and woody cello and fine piano work from Luis Munoz. It’s a conspicuously heavy piece and has the sort of intensity that is heard in soundtracks to particularly emotional scenes in classic silent movies, when soundtracks supplied the mood. The following "Carmesi," its polar opposite, serves as rebirth and celebration with its exquisite carnival-like violin, accordion and alto unison work. The alto and violin work particularly well here. "Myth and Resurrection" is all about percussion and trumpet (Adolpho Acosto from Tower of Power) and electronic keys. The long percussive intro is mesmerizing. How Munoz makes Buckner’s bass clarinet and Flores’ pedal steel work is a testament to his arranging skills. Buckner is also captivating on soprano on this Weather Report fashioned piece. Pasion" is a cross between Gilberto Gil and Flora Purim, with whom Munoz has worked. The only collaborative piece here, the lyric comes from Panamanian poet Romulo Castro and is sung gloriously by Brazilian Teka Pentimete, with backing vocals from Jana Anderson. Ron Kalina returns with his amazing harmonica and shares space with the wonderful guitar work of Chris Judge and pianist Asarnow. "Mercedes En Reposo," despite its reliance on acoustic guitar, piano and violin, is a quick-paced Latin number that elicits images of senoritas swaying around a village bonfire. All of Luis Munoz’s compositions have that element of cinema. "Palito" mixes percussion and a big band flavor in a fantastic arrangement that benefits from lots of horns. By distinct contrast, the closing piece, "Los Ojos De La Ausencia" features only the dazzling and beautiful guitar of Gilberto Gonzales and wonderful marimba playing by .... John Nathan. Munoz the composer/arranger proves himself a wonderful orchestrater in deciding that Luis Munoz the marimbaist wasn’t the perfect player for the piece. An interesting tact, but a courageous and admirable means of taking this wonderful recording out. Already one of my favorite recordings of the year, this will likely make my year-end top 10.” - Mark E. Gallo


Costa Rican percussionist/keyboardist Luis Munoz recorded this wonderful outing in Santa Barbara, Ca., along with musicians who perform in quartet, sextet, and larger ensemble jamborees. Not being intimately familiar with this artist, it becomes easily detectable that his arranging, composing, and technical abilities are on par with the very best within various Latin-jazz frameworks. And while Munoz treads familiar territory, his uncanny penchant for tossing in odd-metered diversions and the use of strings and synths, cast a multidimensional element into the entire game plan. For instance, the piece titled "Seveneves," could easily become a modern day classic - not solely within the Latin-jazz scheme of things, we might add. Featuring a festive, Brazilian type groove beneath a striking melody, Munoz’ decision to incorporate a pedal steel guitarist and violinist parleys a contrasting sequence of events. It’s one of those pieces that warrant repeated spins, as the ensemble injects a classical motif during the bridge, to counterbalance the gorgeous melody of the primary theme. Ultimately, Munoz’ music is constructed upon mood-evoking choruses, spanning Desi Arnaz-like Mambos to cool, breezy sambas coinciding with a potpourri of skillfully executed twists and turns. Overall, this outing should appeal to the mainstreamers and modernists. To that end, it would be a crime, if this production should dwell in obscurity. (Feverishly recommended.... )” - Glenn Astarita


THE BEST JAZZ AND BLUES OF 2004 Written by  Mark E. Gallo  font size    Print  Email  Be the first to comment! I’ve been compiling "Best Of" lists for most of the 25-plus years that I’ve writing about jazz and blues. This year’s lists cover the wide spectrum of music that excites my ears, and I hope there is something here that might inspire some added listening for readers. You’ll note that Pyeng Threadgill, the most exciting new artist of the year, is listed in both the jazz and blues categories. The daughter of the great Henry Threadgill recorded a tribute to blues icon Robert Johnson, but really defies categorization. I’ve always appreciated those artists that move the music forward, though there are plenty straight ahead gems on my baker’s dozen lists, too. Best Jazz of 2004 1. Stefon Harris & Blackout: Evolution (Blue Note). Stefon Harris is a young vibraphone player headed to the jazz Parthenon. Classically trained, bit by the jazz bug and well versed in hip hop he has an invigorating approach that straddles the fence between the tradition and the future that sweeps my ears off their feet. 2. Geri Allen: The Life Of A Song (Telarc). A graduate of the fertile Detroit jazz scene of the mid-1970s, pianist Harris studied with Marcus Belgrave, the Dean of Detroit Jazz. One of the most adventurous players on the world stage, she’s joined on this trio date by bassist Dave Holland and drummer Jack DeJohnette. 3. Patricia Barber: A Fortnight In France (Blue Note). The Chicagoan reminds me of a cross between Joni Mitchell and Laurie Anderson. Everything on the recording is a stunner, from her original semi cacophonous "White World" to a surprisingly reconfigured cover of the Beatles' "Norwegian Wood." Everything here is simply amazing. 4. Pyeng Threadgill: Sweet Home The Music of Robert Johnson (Random Chance). As unique an album as I’ve ever heard, this is the Debut Disc of the Year for these ears. Cellos and Robert Johnson don’t usually get mentioned in the same breath, as on her version of his "When You Got A Good Friend." The tunes will challenge, cajole and celebrate your conceptions of jazz and blues. 5. Frode Berg: Dig It! (Nagel Heyer). This Norwegian bassist (acoustic and electric) surrounds himself with phenomenal players (sax, piano, drums). From straight ahead to nearly outside, the playing, composing and arranging are first rate. The cover of Coltrane’s "Giant Steps" is exciting and the original material just magnificent. 6. Louis Smith: Louisville (Steeple Chase). Louis spent many years as an instructor in the jazz program at the University of Michigan, and played with Miles, Dizzy, Cannonball and other major figures along the way. Now in his early 70s, he’s retired from academia and fully immersed in the art. His post-bop brilliance shines on every song on this superb disc. He’s one of the most melodic trumpeters recording today and has recorded the finest jazz trumpet disc of the year. 7. James Carter: Live at Bakers (Warner Bros.). Baker’s is one of the oldest jazz clubs in the world, but I don’t recall any other major label album being recorded there. Detroiter Carter no doubt spent a lot of time absorbing the sounds as a youngster (well, younger than he still is). He’s joined by saxists David Murray (another Detroit monster) and Johnny Griffin on a jaw-dropping set that runs the gamut of Jimmy Forrest and Oscar Pettiford burners to "I Can’t Get Started." The best straight-ahead disc he’s recorded in years. 8. Mike Wofford Trio: Live at Athenaeum Jazz (Capri). San Diego-based Wofford is one of the most captivating pianists I’ve had the pleasure of seeing perform. This performance, captured in suburban La Jolla, presents the master (whose resume includes stints as accompanist to Sarah Vaughn and Ella Fitzgerald), along with Peter Washington (bass) and Victor Lewis (drums), in brilliant form in a program that covers, among others, Ellington, Berlin and Sting. 9. Satoko Fujii Quartet: Zephyros (Natsat). A masterful pianist who splits her time between Japan and New York, Julliard-trained Fujii and her quartet challenge and soothe, excite and incite. "Clear Sky For Christopher," with its frantic calliope feel, is my favorite tune on a disc full of complex and intense music. 10. McCoy Tyner: Illuminations (Telarc). The pianist who gained his initial fame as a member of John Coltrane’s quartet 40 years ago is still an imposing presence. Now in his mid-60s, he’s as agile and quick-witted as ever. The ever impressive Gary Bartz joins the master here, as do Terence Blanchard, Christian McBride and Lewis Nash, first-rate players all. 11. Gonzalo Rubalcaba: Paseo (Blue Note). The Cuban pianist is extraordinarily diverse in his approach and surrounds himself with impressive players. There is a dancing, percussive feel to most of the tracks with electric and acoustic piano sharing space in a program that incorporates funk as liberally as swaying Cuban rhythms and outside figures that tantalize. 12. Ed Thigpen: #1 (Stunt). Thigpen was the drummer with Oscar Peterson a few decades ago and still drives a band with the force of a young man. From the post-bop blues of the original opener, "Shake It Out," to his closing "Fast Train," on which the drummer trades fours with Thomas Franck’s tenor and Jens Winther’s scalding trumpet, there isn’t a tune here that doesn’t impress mightily in the hands of this dazzling Danish quintet. 13. Luis Munoz: Vida (Pelin) Costa Rican-born percussionist/drummer Munoz, now a resident of Santa Barbara, California released what is hands down the coolest Latin jazz disc of the year. The compositions and arrangements, tender to fiery, are impressive and the performances, particularly by Munoz, are phenomenal. ” - Mark E Gallo

THE best jazz of 2004