West Coast “Cool” lives and breathes in the atmospheric music of Luis Muñoz, the Costa Rican composer and ceaselessly innovative percussion colourist who daubs his musical canvas with brushes, sticks and mallets. The Dead Man, inspired by the Uruguayan storyteller, Horacio Quiroga, is a series of dark tales and takes its title from a line in one of his stories: “…el hombre tendido que ya ha descansado.” Luis Muñoz is hardly one to stop there, but goes on to spin seven stories of his own, then proceeds to illustrate each one of them with a same sinister beauty of Keith Puccinelli’s cover art.
The Luis Muñoz Quartet then goes on to perform somewhat punctilious “readings” – a more appropriate term than to suggest they are “playing” versions – of this music. A chamber feeling is deftly conjured up, framing crepuscular, stormy, contrapuntal episodes, each one a perfect miniature that seems to have morphed into music from a vivid narrative. The broadly desolate landscape in which the music becomes song seems to capture a melancholic existentialism which Luis Muñoz rightly believes is a sign of the times. The perspective from a seemingly later-day-Haight-Ashbury-West Coast, the music delves into highly suggestive Latin American rhythms, without even being overtly Latin-Jazz.
Like a whispered conversation between intimates, where nothing much is said, yet everything that matters is understood, the music of Luis Muñoz undulates its way into a kind of evening glimmer, that eventually fades into the heat of an endless night in Latin America. Fires crackle and around them tales of mythic glory and unrelenting tragedy are told. The narratives are clever. “Seveneves”, far from being an anagram might actually be a not-so-loosely-suggestive version of our ancestral mothers; Ursula, Xenia, Helena, Velda, Tara, Katherine and Jasmine, the Seven Daughters of Eve that leads to the question of relationships, by its masterful contrapuntal exchanges between the musicians.
“The Sleep of the Innocent” and “Tierranegra” leads as one cautionary tale into the other before reaching a proverbial climax in “The Dead Man” an allegorical tale both in the narrative about the existential angst of the dying farmer in Horacio Noriega’s tale as well as in the music of Luis Muñoz’s version. The musical narrative encompasses not just an out-of-body experience of death, but is a profound contemplation on the strain of living itself. The dramatic tension is exquisitely built in sinister drum rolls and the whispering death of the cymbals. And even as the acoustic piano brings harmonic calm, the heraldic trumpet and growl of the tenor saxophone and bass clarinet bring an arresting finality to the sequence of songs.
Luis Muñoz is easily one of the most expressive and musical percussionists playing today. Not only is his body language dynamic and alive but his work behind the kit is also emotionally charged. He is constantly inventing dramatic rhythmic figures imbuing the black dot of each note with meaning. Thus he is able to make these dots leap off the page to make up these fabulous tales not just on, but also of The Dead Man.
Track List: 1: Secrecy; 2: Seveneves; 3: The Sleep of the Innocent (Trio Version); 4: Tierranegra; 5: The Dead Man; 6: Invisible; 7: Savannah
Personnel: Daniel Zimmerman: electric and acoustic guitar; Jonathan Dane: trumpet and flugelhorn; Brendan Statom: acoustic bass; Luis Muñoz: drums, piano and Fender Rhodes; Guests: Ramses Araya: percussion (1, 2, 4, 7); Adam Asarnow: acoustic piano (4, 5), Fender Rhodes (5); Tom Buckner: tenor saxophone and bass clarinet (5); Norma LaTuchie: flute (4)
Record Label: Pelin Music
Year Released: 2017
Running time: 45:52