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Overdue Ovation for Tisziji Muñoz

At peace, but never at rest

Tisziji Muñoz

Here’s something funny: In the early ’60s, the guitarist Tisziji Muñoz sang in a doo-wop outfit called the Arrogants. This isn’t humorous for any musical reason; vocal groups aren’t chuckle-worthy, and there’s nothing inherently comical about a teenage baritone who evolves into jazz guitar’s best answer to John Coltrane. Instead, the laughs are generated by the ensemble’s moniker in relation to everything Muñoz stands for. In 1984, after a decade on the New York jazz scene, working primarily in the employ of saxophonist Pharoah Sanders, Muñoz retreated upstate to live a monk-like existence. His song titles include “No Self, No Thought, No Mind” and “Gracious,” and he quietly self-releases his music on a label called Anami, which means “nameless” in Sanskrit. This is a man who sees himself as one with the universe, not the center of it.

That’s not to say he’s timid, or unambitious. In addition to Sanders, Muñoz has worked with jazz greats like Rashied Ali, Ravi Coltrane, McCoy Tyner, John Medeski, Marilyn Crispell and Dave Liebman. And he clearly feels his music is worth hearing. Obsessively prolific, he has released nearly 60 albums as a leader or co-leader. So far, he’s put out four albums this year: the rowdy The Paradox of Friendship, featuring bassist Don Pate, drummers Adam Benham and Tony Falco and former Late Show With David Letterman pianist and musical director Paul Shaffer, a frequent collaborator over the years; Spirit First and Last, a blistering live date from 2004 with Pate, Falco, pianist Greg Murphy and second drummer Ra-Kalam Bob Moses; the peacefully chaotic Genius Awakening, with Pate, Moses and pianist Chris Caswell; and the full-tilt Space of Fire, a collaboration with the Canadian musicians Bernie Senensky (piano), George Koller (bass) and Greg Pilo (drums). So Muñoz is a fascinating contradiction: as giving as they come yet constantly pushing his unique spiritual vision, rooted in his devotion to Eastern religion. He is at peace, but never at rest.

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