Thu, November 7, 2019
7:30 PM – 9:30 PM EST
Arlington Street Church – Unitarian Universalist
351 Boylston St
Boston, MA 02116-3303
A multiple Grammy® nominee and Guggenheim and MacArthur Fellow, Zenón is one of a select group of musicians who have masterfully balanced and blended the often contradictory poles of innovation and tradition. Widely considered one of the most groundbreaking and influential saxophonists of his generation, Zenón has also developed a unique voice as a composer and as a conceptualist, concentrating his efforts on perfecting a fine mix between Latin American folkloric music and jazz.
“He wasn’t just one of the guys. For me, he was beyond that,” says Miguel Zenón about Ismael (“Maelo”) Rivera (1931-1987), the subject of his latest project, Sonero: The Music of Ismael Rivera. “He exemplified the highest level of artistry. He was like Bird, Mozart, Einstein, Ali – he was that guy.”
Zenón knows something about musical greatness. He’s one of jazz’s most original thinkers, known for his harmonic complexity as well as for being one of the most recognizable alto saxophonists of his generation. His great subject is his homeland of Puerto Rico, and he brings a fresh take on it every time out, combining reverence for cultural tradition with strong compositional chops. No one else’s Puerto Rico – and no one else’s jazz – sounds like Miguel Zenón’s.
Sonero might be Miguel Zenón’s strongest album yet, and that’s saying a lot. For his twelfth album as a leader, Zenón and his quartet offer a tribute to a musician who influenced him from childhood: Ismael Rivera, who grew up in Santurce, not far from Zenón’s home turf. Familiarly known as Maelo, he’s a popular hero in Puerto Rico today, even more than 30 years after his death. “When people talk about him, they talk about him as you would about a legendary figure,” says Zenón. On the other side of the Caribbean, in Colombia, Venezuela, and Panamá, he’s as popular as he is in Puerto Rico. But in the wider world, he’s not as well known. “One of my main goals with Sonero,” Zenón says, “is that I want everyone to know about him.”
On Sonero, the group captures the spirit of Maelo – but through its own distinctive lens. The album has the easily identifiable sound of the fully developed Miguel Zenón Quartet, which has remained with the same membership for fifteen years – an astounding stability in the world of jazz. They play a personalized jazz in their own unique style, collectively created under Zenón’s direction and built on the foundation of their easy musical communication.
Some of the selections on Sonero are key tunes from Rivera’s repertoire: “Quítate de la Vía, Perico,” Rivera’s early hit with Cortijo, begins with an accelerating train rhythm; the upbeat feel of Bobby Capó’s “El Negro Bembón,” belies its lyric about the tragedy of a Black man murdered for having big lips; Catalino “Tite” Curet Alonso’s Black-is-beautiful anthem “Las Caras Lindas” – one of Maelo’s signature tunes, covered by many artists; and “El Nazareno,” about his religious experience in the procession of the Black Christ in Portobelo, Panamá, where he was a regular pilgrim. Others are less obvious choices – “Las Tumbas” (The Tombs), for example, with its lyrics about Rivera’s experience in prison; “Colobó,” about the pleasures of living in Loíza Aldea, Puerto Rico’s legendary Black town outside of San Juan where bomba thrives today; and “La Gata Montesa,” a bittersweet bolero-chá about a woman who’s a mountain lion and a “vampiress.”
When Miguel Zenón’s quartet gets to stretching the numbers out live, Sonero is a full evening of entertainment. Unheard but not unacknowledged, the stories the lyrics tell float in the heads of the musicians, as they channel the spirit of Ismael Rivera into their own instrumental masterwork.
Miguel Zenón, alto sax
Luis Perdomo, piano
Hans Glawischnig, bass
Henry Cole, drums