CD review

Miguel Zenón and Luis Perdomo- ‘El Arte Del Bolero’

Miguel Zenón and Luis Perdomo- El Arte Del Bolero
(Miel Music. Recorded live, Jazz Gallery NYC, Sep 2020. CD Review by Sam Norris)

Alto saxophonist Miguel Zenón has worked throughout his distinguished career to bring the music of his homeland, Puerto Rico, to a wider audience. Notably, his 2011 release Alma Adentro: The Puerto Rican Songbook saw him nominated for both a Grammy Award for Best Large Jazz Ensemble Album and a Latin Grammy for Best Instrumental Album. His latest release, El Arte Del Bolero, however, is a more intimate undertaking, recorded alongside Venezuelan pianist and longtime Zenón collaborator Luis Perdomo. It forms part of a series of concerts livestreamed from NYC’s Jazz Gallery. It presents a personal take on six Puerto Rican traditional songs which, as the altoist details in the album’s liner notes, are ‘almost beyond familiar. These songs are part of us.’

Ernesto Duarto’s Como Fue, the first track on the album, was made famous by Cuban vocalist Benny Moré and Zenón’s playing on it is aptly lyrical, his lithe, sweet sound and crisp articulation allowing him to glide unhurriedly over Perdomo’s tasteful piano accompaniment. The simpatico between the altoist and pianist is evident from the very first notes they play together, a product not only of years sharing the stage but also of a joint musical heritage. Alma Adentro’s brooding odd-time vamp again shows off the pair’s uncanny musical chemistry, Perdomo’s comping breathing with Zenón’s clearly aimed, beboppy phrases, both players waxing and waning in tandem with one another.

Latin music has a famously strong rhythmic identity and Zenón clearly has it as an integral part of who he is musically; one gets the sense that he is just as comfortable sitting in the pocket of Perdomo’s infectious groove as he is playing rapid flurries of semiquavers over it, a contrast which he uses effectively both on the lamenting Ese Hastio (which Perdomo recorded previously on his album Pathways) and during the final mambo-esque section of Que te Pedí, an emotive ‘anthem for lost love’. Perdomo is always wonderfully percussive both in the supporting role and as an improviser, providing a driving basis for the altoist’s swaggering lines on this tune and spinning a particularly fine solo on the previous one, a tragic ballad entitled La Vida es un Sueño (‘Life is a Dream’).

Bobby Capo’s classic Juguete (‘Toy’) is the final and most energetic piece on the album and has the feel of an encore, its extended vamp giving scope for a long dynamic build and plenty of harmonic exploration from the duo. It is a joyful end to a record which further cements Zenón’s reputation as a startlingly original interpreter of the Latin jazz canon, a saxophonist who synthesises the sounds of his youth with the language of bebop and contemporary post-bop to create a uniquely beguiling musical world.

LINKS: El Arte del Bolero at Bandcamp

Miguel Zenón has written for LJN: he kindly contributed to our centenary tribute to Charlie Parker

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