Zenón At The Seasons

When they played The Seasons the other night, it had been nine months since I heard alto saxophonist Miguel Zenón’s quartet. I was impressed with the band at the Portland Jazz Festival and with Zenón’s Jíbaro CD. In Feburary, the leader’s fellow Puerto Rican Henry Cole had recently replaced the formidable Antonio Sánchez on drums and was working into the group. Cole’s working-in is long past. The band has the cohesion, mutuality of direction and sense of purpose that come when performance together night after night settles individual players into a unit.
Zenón, Cole, bassist Hans Glawischnig and pianist Luis Perdomo are without question a unit. Playing to a hinterlands audience unsure of what to expect from a band most of them had neither heard nor heard of, Zenón took the bold step of performing the tunes in each of two sets without interruption. Before intermission, all of the pieces but two new compositions, “Camarón” and “Penta” were from the Jíbaro album. In the second set, the music consisted only of fresh music by Zenón, unified in the form of a suite.
I could sense surprise and mild discomfort in the hall when the playing in the first set had continued without a break for fifteen or twenty minutes. Gradually, the content of Zenón’s music, the band’s intensity and the passion of the soloing created the awareness that this was chamber music of a high order; captivating chamber music flowing with Latin pulses, lyricism and yearning, fed by jazz sensibility and swing. Zenón’s playing is unlike that of any other young alto saxophonist of whom I am aware. He has the potential to become one of those soloists–not uncommon a couple of generations ago–whom the average listener can recognize after a few notes. Cole is an equally distinctive player. The four members of the band interact with almost eery interconnectedness inside complex music made to sound natural and easy.
I have frequently commented here on the regrettable trend of knee-jerk standing ovations. If everything deserves a standing ovation, nothing deserves one. When the concert ended, there was a long standing ovation full of shouts and whistles. The Zenóns deserved it.
The new pieces that made up that entrancing second half were “Ulysses in Slow Motion,” “Santo,” “Lamamilla” and “3rd Dimension.” None has been recorded. Zenón told me that he hopes to take the band into the studio early next year and incorporate the new music into a CD. Good.

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