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Ornette Coleman at the SF Jazz Festival

Who is this shamanistic cat with the pyrotechnic chops? And where’s he been all my life? Guitarist Tisziji (pronounced tis-see-gee) Muñoz has been flying below the radar for the past 30 years, documenting his fleet-fingered, six-string take on latter-day John Coltrane in the company of such kindred spirits as drummers Rashied Ali and Bob Moses, saxophonist Dave Liebman, bassist Don Pate, pianist Marilyn Crispell and guitarist Henry Kaiser on the tiny independent Anami label. Imagine if Carlos Santana had never strayed from the intensely searching, spiritual path of Love, Devotion, Surrender and you get the picture.

Although his name was brought to my attention a few years ago by ubiquitous taper and record-store owner Bruce Gallanter (proprietor of the Downtown Music Gallery, New York’s premiere emporium for prog rock and the avant-garde), it was not until this recent record release party for Divine Radiance, Muñoz’s debut on the higher profile Dreyfus label, that I actually first set eyes on the over-the-top ax slinger. Appearing in the intimate confines of the Village Underground with his dream band–a sextet featuring the twin tenors of Pharoah Sanders and Ravi Coltrane, Rashied Ali on drums, Don Pate on bass and Paul Shaffer (yes, of Letterman fame) on keyboards–this holy man of the fretboard ignited a set of transcendent music with his infinite sustain, mad machine-gun picking and unbridled passion. Visions of Sonny Sharrock in flight–broken strings dangling in the air as he thrashed away–danced in my head as Muñoz dug in with the heightened intensity of latter-day Trane, blowing “sheets of sound” alongside the former colleagues and son of his main inspiration. His sheer abandon and visceral intent rubbed off on the rest of the musicians to the point where the sextet was practically levitating a foot above the bandstand by the encore. And the audience, packed in shoulder-to-shoulder like straphangers on a runaway rush hour train, took it all in with awed delight.

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