This review by Jeff Krow appeared in Audiophile Audition.
In his new CD Miguel Zenon has explored the theme of national identity experienced by New Yorkers of Puerto Rican descent. As the largest community of Puerto Ricans outside of the island (1.2 million) have made the 1600 mile trip to New York City, Miguel wanted to explore their reasons for moving north as well as how the experience of living in the Big Apple has changed their lives. Zenon has been in New York since 1998, pursuing his dreams of jazz musicians who know that New York City is the mecca of jazz in the US.
Miguel, himself, did the interviews of his fellow countrymen and women exploring a single question- “what makes a Puerto Rican a Puerto Rican?” The interviews serve as a backdrop for a gorgeous big band soundtrack. Backed by his own quartet, Zenon expands the CDs tracks into a song cycle for a large ensemble. An infectious groove is established by the musicians that weaves in and out of the interviewees’ stories of where their parents were born, when they came to New York, and their connection back to Puerto Rico, even when they have been raised almost completely in one of the boroughs of New York. Some have returned to their island, but many who have not consider themselves Puerto Rican primarily. Ritual, language, and cultural identity tie them back to their roots.
Zenon states that “all of the compositions explore the idea of multiple rhythmic structures coexisting with each other.” Miguel’s swinging alto sax is a constant throughout the eight tracks. The expanded ensemble has some solo features such as John Ellis’ tenor solo on “Same Flight” and Tim Albright’s trombone featured on “First Language.
The music ties together the interviews as a hybrid bridge connecting the oral histories recorded by Zenon. It’s an intoxicating brew as the ensemble shifts meters and jumps from double to half time. Many of the themes have an anthemic quality that gives inspiration to the life stories that the CD presents. Tying together the project together is Zenon moving around the chord changes, as well as drummer Henry Cole keeping the energy flowing.
To hear second or third generation New Yorkers of Puerto Rican descent wax poetic about their parents and grandparent’s ties to the island leads them to want to keep their heritage vital with their own children.
It is important to note that the music on this CD is complemented by a video installment by David Dempewolf with footage from the interviews. It can be accessed by visiting Miguel’s website at: www.miguelzenon.com/identitiesvideo Those lucky enough to experience the project in its entirety in Boston, San Francisco or at Carnegie Hall were in for a moving experience. Hearing the CD alone comes highly recommended also.
For the original report go to http://audaud.com/2014/10/miguel-zenon-identities-are-changeable-tracklist-follows-miel-music/