A gentle, relaxed feel does not necessarily define a CD as "smooth jazz," not when there are fine solos and real drums, as is the case here. This release by Costa Rican-born, California-based composer/drummer Luis Muñoz is companionable yet creative; there are no barn-burners, but there are enjoyable textures and occasional surprises. Compassion, his second effort for Fahrenheit Records, contains ten Muñoz originals that incorporate varied instrumental combinations and moods but are all Central American- or South American-inflected, melodic, and compactly arranged with style and flair. The travelogue includes stops in Brazil ("Romance," "Pasion"), the Andes ("Nicoya"), and the Caribbean ("Islands"). The standout composition is the title track, a ballad inspired by Argentinian tango master Astor Piazzolla that features the warm, soulful violin of Gilles Appap; the most ambitious is "Yiguro," where Muñoz musicially describes a fairy-tale dream he had. In fact, there's a distinctly soundtrack feel to much of this music, which may reflect Muñoz's two decades as a composer for film, TV, theater, and dance. (He has also backed Flora Purim and Airto, Etta James, and Jim Messina.) The CD has a reigning aura of gentle romance, which is enhanced by fine performances by pianist Adam Asarnow, acoustic guitarist Chris Judge, and flügelhorn player Jonathan Dane.
by Judith Schlesinger