Saxophonist Miguel Zenón delivers thought-provoking compositions on the world’s “Musica de Las Americas” (ALBUM REVIEW)

Alto saxophonist and composer Michael Zenon is best known for combining innovation with the folk and traditional music of his native Puerto Rico. Zenón has been prolific recently both as a leader {Sonero: The music of Ismael Rivera (2020), years of law (2021), El Arte Bolero (2021)} and as a contributor on Ches Smith’s We All Break’s Path of Seven Colors (2021)}. On Música de Las Américas, Zenón widens his scope even further in a large-scale project inspired by the history of the American continent (think North, Center and South): not only before European colonization, but the aftermath which result. At the head of his eternal quartet – pianist Luis Perdomobass player Hans Glawischnigand drummer Henry ColeZenón also called on the Puerto Rican ensemble The Pleneros of La Cresta to bring their incomparable rhythms with additional contributions by Paoli Mejias on percussion, Daniel Diaz on the congas, and Victor Emmanuelli on bomba barrel.

Substantial inspiration for these pieces came from Zenón’s deep dive into history books and resources during the pandemic. For example, the opening “Tainos y Caribes” is also the title of a book by Sebastian Robiou Lamarche describing the two major societies inhabiting the Caribbean before European colonization: the Tainos being a more passive agricultural society while the Caribs were warriors eager for conquest. Beginning with Perdomo’s throbbing piano, Zenón is already flying upon entry, spurred on by Perdomo and churning percussion that tugs and shoves as the piece unfolds, reflecting the clash of the two with the leader huffing just as aggressively here. than on any of the eight pieces.

As you might guess, “Navegando (Las Estrellas Nos Guian)” nods to the maritime culture that existed in the region, with Zenón particularly struck by how these “sailors” could cover ridiculously long distances in canoes guided only by star formations. Perdomo begins quietly, painting a quiet sonic seascape undisturbed by the pure tones of Zenón which gradually gain intensity over the delicate rhythms of Los Pleneros de la Cresta which add their voice to their percussion in the final section. The rhythms of “Opresion y Revolucion” are even more complex, as they evoke the tension and liberation of the revolts on the American continent, mainly the Haitian Revolution, reflecting the influence of Haitian voodoo music which was at the heart of the masterpiece. aforementioned work by Ches Smith. Perdomo percussionist Paoli Mejías and Perdomo’s percussive piano attack mainly shape the turbulent undercurrent.

The initial pensive nature of “Imperios” traces back to the leader’s admiration for the indigenous empires and advanced societies (compared to much of Europe at the time) of the Incas, Mayans and Aztecs with a melody derived from a ceremony of Aztec descendants. As with other pieces, this evolves in sections with Zenón and his quartet embracing a much snappier tempo halfway through before returning to the piece’s original melody as Perdomo also displays his immense chops in his solo, all culminating in a flourish.

“Venus Abiertas”, translated as “Open Veins”, refers to the book by Eduardo Galeano, Open Veins of Latin America: Five Centuries of Looting a Continent (English translation). Simply put, it is Western exploitation of South American resources. Perdomo’s piano and accompanying percussion bring a stark, haunting quality that introduces the piece as Zenón quickly picks up that mood upon entering but quickly builds his solo into a solo that evokes the frenzy and panic that accompanies looting. as his viola roars.

“Bambula” is simpler thematically. Along with percussionist Victor Emmanuelli, the term “bambula” refers to a dance that African slaves brought to the Americas, the same rhythm currently called “habanera” in Latin American music today, the thread of which runs from New -Orléans to Brazil via Central America and back to Africa. “America, el Continente” is a not-so-subtle jab at the United States arrogantly claiming the term “America” ​​while ignoring its neighbors on the continent. Zenón calmly lays out the melody, then passing it to bassist Glawischnig before returning to a more agitated mood, as the tempo increases and threatens to overflow, ending with a thunderous cymbal crash, after which the viola player speaks sadly to spare the bottom. Yet with “Antillano”, named after residents of the West Indies, Zenón brings his trademark ability to merge the past with the present, intending to close the project with optimism. The tone here, unlike the others, is distinctly celebratory as Daniel Diaz on congas helps the quartet navigate strange meters and shift tempos while keeping the musical flow intact.

For there to be no doubt, Miguel Zenón is one of the most influential and innovative musicians of our time.

About Madeline J. Carter

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