Fans of guitarist Tisziji Muñoz will be surprised by Beautiful Empty Fullness, a duet session with pianist/composer Marilyn Crispell. They've recorded together before, but this marks their first time as a duo. Both players are fiery improvisers who share John Coltrane as inspirational spiritual source and musical influence. While Ms. Crispell has recorded several programs of deeply intuitive, nearly songlike performances beginning with 1997's Nothing Ever Was, Anyway: The Music of Annette Peacock on ECM, Mr. Muñoz has, to date, never so straightforwardly showcased his work as a composer. Ms. Crispell is the perfect partner to assist in revealing this profound aspect of his musical character. These are songs, from short and sweet to lengthy and exploratory, that carry within them a lyricism we've seldom encountered from Muñoz before. The two opening tracks, "Fatherhood" and "I Thank You Love," are each under two minutes. The former carries within it the seeds of gospel, while the latter is almost a hymn. "Prayer for Awakening the Heart" is a modal number. Ms. Crispell's rumbling, lower mid-register chord voicings provide a base for the guitarist's sparse yet lyric melody. Given its nearly eight-minute length, there is room for both players to stretch a bit, but their interplay hovers around the composition's tonal center. Crispell's gorgeous intro to "Precious Friendship" offers an elliptical, blissful atmospheric lilt before Muñoz's signature tone -- simultaneously biting and tender -- digs into its center and carries it to the margins, underscoring, highlighting, and deepening the complex emotions at its core. There is real drama in the nearly 11-minute "Impermanence," which seems to open at the center of a crescendo, but it's merely the beginning of a long ascent, a winding journey toward something even more revelatory as it unfolds, almost cinematically moving backward and forward until the lyric line has been extended almost boundlessly. "Love's Continual Presence" has a nearly "Love Supreme"-esque motif, as Muñoz repetitively offers a mantra-like phrase and Crispell illustrates it compellingly, her ostinati shimmering through the guitarist's "chant"-like phrases. "When I'm Gone" emerges from a minor-key modal exploration; tone, dissonance, and dynamic force are offered in a labyrinthine improvisational language. Heartfelt emotion fuels every gorgeous track on Beautiful Empty Fullness, adding depth and dimension to the portraits of both players.
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AllMusic Review by Thom Jurek