Carli Munoz at The Jazz Standard

The Carli Munoz Trio with special guest Chris Potter will be performing on Wednesday November 30th at the Jazz Standard. Carli Munoz celebrates the release of his trio CD Maverick.

You can tell alot about a cat by the company he keeps. In the case of pianist and composer Carli Munoz-whose new album Maverick on his Pelosenel Q Lo Records features bass master Eddie Gomez and drummer extraordinaire Jack DeJohnette-his rarified accompanists suggest an artist who should be much better known. A quick spin of the disc confirms the suspicion, as Munoz instantly establishes himself as a player and composer who confidently holds his own. In short, Maverick announces in no uncertain terms that Munoz may well be the most exciting fifty-something improviser you've never heard of.

The best explanation for his relatively low profile is that he's spent much of his career on a very different creative trajectory. Born in Puerto Rico and raised in a middle class San Juan family, Munoz was in his mid teens when he started performing with jazz veterans such as percussionist Sabu Martinez, drummer Joe Morello (of Dave Brubeck Quartet fame), and legendary trumpet player Juancito Torres. Within a few years he had moved to New York City with his inventive rock combo The Living End, which went on to become the house band at the hip Manhattan club 'Rolling Stone.'

By the early 1970s, he had relocated to Los Angeles, where he became a top-flight sideman working with artists like Wilson Pickett, George Benson and The Beach Boys, with whom he toured for 11 years. Despite his immersion in the world of Rock and Pop, he always maintained a connection to Jazz, his first musical love, finding time to play with artists such as Les McCann, Chico Hamilton, Wayne Henderson and Charles Lloyd.

He gained attention around LA in the '70s with his fusion band 'Your Own Space, ' and later formed an inventive trio featuring bassist Potter Smith (best known for his long association with pianist Alan Broadbent). By the mid-1980s, Munoz had moved back to Puerto Rico, and in 1998 he opened his nightclub 'Carli Caf Concierto, ' a world-class restaurant and jazz spot where he performs regularly. It was during a trip to Puerto Rico that Eddie Gomez first met Munoz. “We became good friends, “ Munoz says. “He'd come down to my club and we played alot. He always talked about drummers he wanted to bring into a session, and that's how he ended up producing my album BOTH SIDES NOW [from 2003], with Joe Chambers and Jeremy Steig. For our next project, I mentioned that I felt a connection with Jack DeJohnette. We're close to the same age and I can relate to his feel, his vibe, all the different things he's done. I went through a lot of musical changes myself. I mentioned it to Eddie and we went for it.”

As for the new album's title and concept, Munoz explains: “The term Maverick came to me during an early morning sleep one day, just before waking. It came up visually in my mind as a title and idea with a particular significance and depth, inspiring me to create the whole concept around it. It meant to me strength, independence, a free spirit and best of all it became a vehicle in which I could honor and bring to peoples' minds some of those Mavericks who have contributed to in such a way so that we can enjoy a better world today.”

He continues: “Now, by engaging in such a lofty conceptual ideal, I could do no less than first of all selecting the best Maverick players I could think of (which I think I did), and to remain true to their free spirit. I wanted to conduct a no-holds-barred session where the raw and independent power of each player could fuse along with the material I brought in, into significantly great music.”

Munoz has known Puerto Rican tenor sax star David Sanchez, who plays on the album's title track, since he was a kid. Like many top jazz players on the island, Sanchez has stopped by Carli Caf Concierto to jam many times. Sanchez lavishes attention on the lovely melody of “Maverick, ” which Munoz composed back in the early 70s. “It was meant to be a bossa nova, ” Munoz says. “It's true to the form, but we made it more swinging. It's basically a pop song, a simple thing. I used to write anything, for rock or pop sessions, whatever I was into at the moment.”

DeJohnette suggested Don Byron for the tune “Three Little Steps To Heaven, ” a piece that developed out of Munoz's rigorous piano exercises. “When you're self-taught, you have to make up your own devices and your own way to work on your playing, ” Munoz says. “I developed a simple melody and it became the tune. It's only three chords, and it just goes around and around through a cycle and you don't end up where you start.”

Another highlight is his arrangement of “Margot, ” one of Keith Jarrett's deceptively simple, folk-like themes introduced on his early Atlantic album 'Life Between The Exit Signs' (featuring Charlie Haden and Paul Motian). “I love beautiful, almost childlike melodies, ” Munoz says. “Normally it's against my rules to do a tune that has been so well done by masters. I don't pretend to better the performance, that's not possible, because it was done perfectly. For me it was more like: “I'm just going to enjoy doing this.”

Just as Jarrett wrote “Margot” for his wife, Munoz's ravishing, moody piece “Katira's Waltz” was inspired by his own spouse. He wrote “Entre Nous” as a feature for Gomez, designed to showcase his huge, elastic sound supported by DeJohnette's trademark cymbal work. The album closes with “Yellow Moon Tune, ” a tune that evokes a nocturnal epiphany Munoz experienced years ago driving to his Mt. Washington home in LA. In many ways the piece captures the essence of his musical journey, from -as he likes to say -pop to bop. No matter what kind of music he plays, Munoz brings his improvisers' soul to the project. Now all his experiences are grist for his imagination, and he's bringing his fresh, passionate, voice to jazz, joined by some cats who have nothing to prove.

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