By John Kelman
Some feel the only way to remain true to the jazz tradition is to focus one's energies exclusively within that domain. Others believe that all experience is valuable, and that a stylistically broad career needn't tarnish an ability to remain truthful to a jazz aesthetic.
Carli Muñoz clearly fits into the latter camp. The Puerto Rican pianist has been involved in the music industry for over forty years, both in PR and on both coasts of the United States . Over the years he's recorded and/or performed with artists as diverse as Wilson Pickett, Rickie Lee Jones, and the Beach Boys, with whom he toured for eleven years.
While Muñoz's passion for jazz remained, it always seemed to take a back seat until 1982, when he decided to devote more of his energies to it. After concert and recording dates with artists like George Benson, Chico Hamilton, and Les McCann, he returned to Puerto Rico , opening a successful jazz dinner club in Old San Juan called Carli Café Concierto. In addition to supporting touring artists who came to the club, Muñoz recorded a number of albums, including Both Sides Now --an album of duets with bassist Eddie Gomez , who first met Muñoz at Carli Café Concierto.
While Muñoz has forged a successful space for himself at home, greater recognition in North America has eluded him, something that Maverick should change. On this recording Muñoz is accompanied by Gomez and drummer Jack DeJohnette, plus guest appearances by clarinetist Don Byron and saxophonist David Sanchez--a younger fellow Puerto Rican whose performance at this year's Ottawa International Jazz Festival was a highlight. Maverick is a showcase for Muñoz's vivid improvisational style and melodic compositional skills.
It's great to hear DeJohnette and Gomez together again. They collaborated heavily during the late 1970s and early 1980s on a number of ECM recordings, and it's clear that the passage of time hasn't diluted their uncanny chemistry. Sessions where relative unknowns recruit big name stars often feel like perfunctory session work, but Maverick has an energy that suggests the three musicians had more than their share of good times recording it.
The trio swings hard on Muñoz originals like the title track--featuring a hard-edged solo from Sanchez--and more elegantly on "Katrina's Waltz." "Entre Nous" is darker fare, given gentle motion by Gomez and DeJonette's ability to subtly imply ideas without clearly stating them. "Three Little Steps to Heaven" is another fiery swinger which shows that Byron may aspire to greater adventure on his own projects, but he ultimately never leaves his roots behind.
A philosophy equally applicable to Muñoz. He may have spread himself out stylistically over his career, but it's clear where his heart truly lies. Virtuosic without being superfluous, Muñoz' playing style matches his writing--direct, unassuming, and to the point. But he's also an interpretive pianist with wide open ears, and he's never overshadowed by the more illustrious reputations and experiences of his musical partners on Maverick .
John Kelman /ALLABOUTJAZZ