Bebop revivalist Miguel Zenón

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A report by Dave Good for the San Diego Reader.

Miguel Zenón is not your grandmother’s jazzman — so many of them are, for better or worse. Ever since a handful of the perkiest among them invented bebop in the 1940s, followed by the next generation’s best and brightest who would spend the 1960s deconstructing it, jazz has seemed eternally stuck in the chasm between the two strategies. Some newcomers to the hallowed bandstand have doomed themselves to play that music over and over, many with historical accuracy, and all of them for dwindling audiences. It’s the curse of jazz, I suppose, trying to create new with a rule book that was produced by some of the shrewdest, coolest musicians who have ever lived. On second thought, it might be easier to reinvent the theory of relativity.

Zenón, from Puerto Rico, rides a rollercoaster of Latin, classical, jazz, and Puerto Rican song forms. Is it a new thing? Not really, but neither is Zenón’s music a museum of a lost generation’s memories and sweat. Zenón’s voice on alto sax is his and his alone. I’m hard pressed to find anyone who even comes close on that instrument. Maybe Kenny Garrett, who is in retrospect a much bigger recording star. That said, in 2008, Zenón was awarded a “Genius Grant” — a MacArthur Fellowship, and later, a Guggenheim Fellowship. A four-time Downbeat magazine “rising star” and multiple Grammy nominee, the Jazz Journalist Association named him their Alto Saxophonist of the Year in 2014 and 2015.

Miguel Zenón Quartet

Wednesday, February 22, 2017, 7 p.m.

Loft, 9500 Gilman Drive, San Diego

So what’s in it for you? A fresh and jazzy music, rather than rote melodies taken from the Great American Songbook, or 64-bar replications of what that old dead genius of alto sax, Charlie Parker, might have played. Zenon learned from the masters, but he makes his own music inside of a multicultural juncture of American and Puerto Rican music. Maybe, and just maybe, this is because Zenón didn’t grow up with jazz.

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