Miguel Zenón - Sonero: The Music of Ismael Rivera

Label: Miel Music, 2019

Personnel - Miguel Zenón: alto saxophone; Luis Perdomo: piano; Hans Glawischnig: bass; Henry Cole: drums.

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Phenomenal saxophonist Miguel Zenón has proved to be a master in synthesizing his Puerto Rican musical heritage - mainly represented by currents like Plena, Bomba, and Jibaro music - into an organic, personal sound grounded in contemporary jazz. For his new outing, Sonero, he gathered the long-standing international quartet that gives shape to his music - Luis Perdomo on piano, Hans Glawischnig on bass, and Henry Cole on drums. Collectively, they apply their potent chemistry to explore 11 salsa songs made popular by Afro-Puerto Rican singer Ismael Rivera. Zenón pushes the envelope through bold arrangements, creating an unrivaled hybrid sonority that makes his musical personality shine through. And guess what? The result is fresher than ever.

The 1961 hit “Quitate De La Via, Perico”, written by Juan Hernandez, is definitely one of the highlights. The saxophonist owns the moment, delivering a superlative solo fueled by the dazzling rhythm and making emotions flow in abundance as he reaches an extensive range on the instrument. With the rhythmic accents and variations preventing any possible monotony, Perdomo conducts a motif-oriented improvisation on top of a danceable Latin extravagance, and then is Cole who, behind the drum kit, energizes the setting with his vitality. The ostinatos spotted here and in several other tunes result from Zenón’s remakes of sonic cells drawn from the original songs, including Rivera’s vocalizations as well as fragments of bass lines and brass sections.

El Negro Bembón” was another mega hit within the genre, here configured with enough expansions-contractions and tempo variations in a world-class arrangement that, once more, brings Cole’s drumming to the forefront in the last section. This is one of the two Bobby Capó-penned compositions on the album. The other one is the engaging “Las Tumbas”, which, re-ordered as a triplet like the original, gets a soothing nature in the hands of Perdomo before acquiring a spiritual vibrancy when Zenón takes the helm. The latter’s improvisation occurs already with a luxurious bass groove running underneath.

Filled with expeditious sax-piano unisons and impeccable rhythmic emphasis expressed with a deliberate push-pull traction, “La Gata Montesa” features solos from saxophone and bass. The passionate dissertation by Glawischnig is professed with such an empathic and clear melodicism that I found myself wishing it wouldn't come to an end. As a matter of fact, the rhythm section reveals an incredible generosity in numbers like “Traigo Salsa”, “Colobó”, and the closing “El Nazareno”, a song of faith that ends the session on a high note. Adventurously propelled by magnetic rhythms and aligned with cross-cultural elements, these tunes preserve the spirit and essence of the originals, but also allow us to luxuriate in the richness of jazz improvisation, especially through Zenón, who points out his vision with an electrifying combination of freshness, eloquence, and ferocity. He can really keep the listener on his/her toes.

Even on the affecting “Hola”, which reveals extra sentiment and absorption, the energy is strongly felt, whether through the iterative moves of piano and bass or through the bandleader’s laments subjected to a posterior vulcanization.

Surpassing Yo Soy La Tradición, its preceding album, Sonero is enlivened by the group’s immense sound and top quality. The rhythmic and textural diversity presented throughout never put the album’s wholeness in question, with each member contributing a little of themselves to create something meaningful and special.

Grade  A

Grade A

Favorite Tracks:
02 - Quitate De La Via, Perico ► 03 - Las Tumbas ► 08 - Hola