In concert: Miguel Zenon
By Sarah Godfrey
Alto saxophonist Miguel Zenón has a resume that is beyond impressive: He was one of the first artists signed to Branford Marsalis' label, Marsalis Music; he is a Grammy nominee; and he is the first jazz musician to receive both a Guggenheim Fellowship and a MacArthur Foundation "genius grant" in the same year.
At the Sixth & I Historic Synagogue on Saturday night, Zenón showcased the latest in his long list of accomplishments: his recent album "Esta Plena," which combines elements of modern jazz and plena, a traditional folkloric music of his native Puerto Rico.
After an opening set from the Aaron Parks Trio (which included an Ornette Coleman tribute titled "Cartoon Element," an anagram of the jazz great's name), the Miguel Zenón Quartet launched into the music of the recording. On the "Esta Plena" album (and for some shows), the works are performed by a septet, and include vocals and dedicated pandero players. On Saturday, the sounds were delivered via the jazz quartet of Zenón, Alex Brown on piano, Ricky Rodriguez on bass and Henry Cole on drums.
The plena element wasn't quite as pronounced with this formation, but the fact that the rhythm and character of the music still shone through, even without the full cast of album players, is a testament to the depth of fusion that Zenón has achieved.
From the beautiful "Oyelo," to the bouncing title track and the earthy "Pandero y Pagode," Zenon managed to highlight the intertwined roots of plena and jazz through rich compositions and the lush, graceful sounds of his horn.
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