Miguel Zenón - Yo Soy La Tradición

Label: Miel Music, 2018

Personnel – Miguel Zenón: alto saxophone + The Spektral Quartet - Clara Lyon: violin; Maeve Feinberg: violin; Doyle Armbrust: viola; Russell Rolen: cello.


The powerful musicality and extended possibilities one can achieve by combining saxophone and strings were tested and confirmed by jazz giants such as Charlie Parker, Stan Getz, Ben Webster, Cannonball Adderley, Lee Konitz, and many more.

Drawing from several musical and cultural Puerto Rican traditions, saxophonist Miguel Zenón takes the concept to a completely different level on Yo Soy La Tradición, recipient of 8 chamber-like pieces written for alto sax and a quartet of strings. With the help of The Spektral Quartet - Clara Lyon and Maeve Feinberg on violin, Doyle Armbrust on viola, and Russell Rolen on cello - the saxophonist validates his own identity, exploring the Puerto Rican roots and heritage with compositional virtuosity.

Rooted in the Catholic tradition, “Rosario” is layered with sequences of rapid movements, occasional counterpoint but also a convergent unity presented in the form of unisons. Zenón breathes in synch with the quartet at his service, just like happens on the following “Cadenas”, a phenomenon metered in six, where the folk melodies of the saxophonist are subjected to violin responses and episodic replications.

Both “Yumac” and “Viejo” are connected to the Jibaro tradition. The former, set about like a Paganini’s caprice, has the quintet symphonizing tunefully with contrapuntal brilliance, pointillistic pizzicatos, and unfailing parallel lines; while the latter makes its way through arpeggiated interplay, having portentous slashes of cello contrasting with limpid saxophone wails in a beautiful dance of timbres. By the end, Zenón casts off an inspired solo. He pulls off another great improvisation on the melodious “Promesa”, a mournful lament inspired on the festivities of the Three Kings Day.

With a sequence of dominant chords in its harmonic progression, “Cadenza” waltzes steadily with the strength of a Mozart’s minuet until a pulse-free navigation makes us lose the sense of tempo. The final section reinstates the triple time, appending handclaps in an exultation of the Latin music's spirit.

Yo Soy La Tradición is a chamber tonic for the ears. Its complexities, in form and tempo, are hidden through cerebral arrangements that permit an intuitive readability of the music. Because in music, demanding executions usually require demanding listenings, get ready for the challenges this CD offers.

Grade  B+

Grade B+

Favorite Tracks:

02 - Cadenas ► 05 - Viejo ► 07 – Promesa

Miguel Zenon - Tipico

Miguel Zenon: saxophone; Luis Perdomo: piano; Hans Glawischnig: bass; Henry Cole: drums.


Puerto Rican saxophonist Miguel Zenon, 39, is a multiple Grammy Award nominee, a meritorious recipient of Guggenheim and MacArthur Fellowships, a graduate of the Berklee College and Manhattan School of Music, and a member of the prestigious SFJazz Collective. Throughout his notable career, he has teamed up with Antonio Sanchez, Danilo Perez, Charlie Haden, Fred Hersch, and Steve Coleman, among others.

Zenon sticks to an illuminated pathway with his fresh album entitled Tipico, which comprises eight original pieces inspired by the musical language he has developed with the members of his longtime quartet over 15 years. His experienced musketeers are Venezuelan pianist Luis Perdomo, German bassist Hans Glawischnig, and Puerto Rican drummer Henry Cole who replaced Antonio Sanchez in 2008 when he joined the Pat Metheny Group.

Bursting with a vivid energy, “Academia” makes us rejoice with the melodic and rhythmic sophistication of Zenon’s dissertations, and the clarity and objectivity of Perdomo’s intimate approach. The tune disembogues into a sort of fast-paced Eastern dance. 
Cantor”, dedicated to his friend, collaborator and master composer/arranger, Guillermo Klein, subtlety plays with tempos, breaking them in a clever way toward a final harmonic sequence that suits Zenon’s take offs. The saxophonist, boosted by the fertile passages of the last cited tune, also excels in “Ciclo”, a soaring, cyclic movement fancifully grounded in the groove created by Glawischnig and Cole, and elevated by memorable solos from Perdomo and himself.

The title track plays a very unique role in the album, injecting warm rhythms and folkloric melodies from Latin American and Caribbean countries.
The saxophonist dedicates “Sangre de mi Sangre” to his daughter Elena. It features a warmly expressive bass solo and advances at a moderated 6/8 tempo.  
The remaining three songs, “Corteza”, “Entre Las Raices”, and “Las Ramas” were dedicated to Glawischnig, Perdomo, and Cole, respectively, and built on musical ideas they had played before.
Elegantly put, “Corteza” flows through a blend of balladic and rockish pulses. The avant-gardish “Entre Las Raices” is a kinetic and passionately driven piece that unveils a more explorative side of the quartet. The highly crafted rhythm in “Las Ramas” seems to move back and forward, becoming a challenge for the responsive drummer.

The musical quality of Zenon has no weak points or artificial schemes, and the well-established unity he shares with his bandmates is great to observe. His genius is left loose in Tipico, a deeply genuine and exhilarating body of work that reinforces his status as a groundbreaking saxophonist and inexorable cat in the actual jazz scene.

          Grade  A

          Grade A

Favorite Tracks: 
01 – Academia ► 03 – Ciclo ► 07 – Entre Las Raices