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


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.

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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.

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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