Thu July 11, 2024

Miguel Zenon Quartet 'Música de las Américas' (USA)

Miguel Zenon: alto saxophone
Luis Perdomo: piano
Hans Glawischnig: bass
Henry Cole: drums

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Alto saxophonist Miguel Zenon has made a career out of exploring his Puerto Rican roots, with albums like Alma Adentro: The Puerto Rican Songbook (Marsalis Music, 2011), Tipico (Miel Music, 2017) and Yo Soy La Tradicion (Miel Music, 2018). With Musica De Las Americas he broadens his vision to celebrate the history of the American continents, north and south, as well as the multiplicity of America's Atlantic Ocean islands, to delve into the history of this expanse of lands—before and after the European invasion—with his energetic Latin jazz sound.

The recording features Zenon's long standing quartet featuring pianist Luis Perdomo, bassist Hans Glawischnig and drummer Henry Cole, a distinctive, effervescent music bolstered here by several added percussionists, including the quintet Los Pleneros De La Cresta.

The themes are the pre-Columbian indigenous people, the post Columbian oppression and exploitation and the rapaciousness of the Europeans, the seafaring cultures of the Caribbean and the concept of "America" not as a country—as in "The United States of America"—but, more historically correctly, America as a continent.

This is a huge undertaking. Zenon could have filled ten albums with his music on the theme, following his ideas concerning the Mayans, the Aztecs and the Inca and the cruelty of the conquest. So what we end up with is a distillation full of wonder at what might have been had the arrival of the Spanish been averted (though it may have been inevitable, a migratory coriolis effect in play), or more likely delayed; music full of a sense of joy at the resilience of the indigenous peoples, of the joys of dance, of outrage concerning the ravages of disease and conquest during the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. And yet initially decimated, the people and their music survived, and eventually thrived. And Zenon celebrates this with gusto, doing his part make right what the historians got wrong with their Eurocentric take on the migration to the Americas .

For their part, Zenon and his musical partners have the DNA/spirit of Charlie Parker in their blood. Open a vein and the indigenous, Spanish and African souls flow freely. Zenon's alto sax tone is similar to Parker's—sharp-edged, with a sweet and sour dynamic, spewing intricate melodies. His quartet has evolved to a peak of perfect interplay and cohesive elocution, and the additional percussionists and the low-in-the-mix vocals on two tracks add an element of exaltation. This is Miguel Zenon's finest recording to date. (

Saxophonist and composer Miguel Zenón hits us again with an album of groove-centric music packed with meaning, soul and ambition. On Música De Las Americas, Zenón brings in his long-standing and amazing quartet to tackle the idea of how the Americas were before European colonization and how it developed thereafter. The Puerto Rican alto saxophonist developed material for this eight-tune, beautifully paced recording after reading a number of histories during the pandemic. According to a terrific article in the November issue of DownBeat, Zenón dug into books like Robiou Lamarch’s Tainos y Caribes, Laurent Dubois’ Avengers of the New World and Andy Robinson’s Gold, Oil and Avocados. The first cut, “Tainos Y Caribes,” sets the tone for this brilliant recording. Named for the early aboriginal cultures of the Caribbean, the tune glides over a clave-driven beat laid down by drummer Henry Cole and bassist Hans Glawischnig, leaving Zenón and pianist Luis Perdomo a warm rhythmic bed to glide over. Here Zenón especially shines with rapid-fire heat. “Opresion Y Revolucion” aptly serves up the pain and chaos that the Western Hemisphere has endured for centuries. “Las Venas” takes its title from Eduardo Galeano’s Las Venas Abiertas De America Latina (The Open Veins Of Latin America), translating a book about the economic history of Latin America — one that has its fill of exploitation from the U.S. and Europe — into sensational instrumental music. Perhaps the album’s most touching moment comes from “American, El Continente,” a slow, brooding tune with beautiful soloing by Zenón and bassist Glawischnig. Often, improvisors are schooled to be able to sing the lyrics of a song before performing it on on their instrument. Here, Zenón and company turn that into “know the history.” The record delivers even more power with the addition of masters Paoli Mejías on percussion, Daniel Díaz on congas and Victor Emmanuelli on barrel de bomba, especially on the closing tune, “Antillano.” While it all sounds like heavy stuff, Música De Las Americas remains an incredibly uplifting listen. Zenón delivers something so rare: music that makes you think and even want to dance. (Frank Alkyer, downbeat)