Sunday, March 29, 2015

Identities are changeable

This past Wednesday, March 26th I had the pleasure of seeing Miguel Zenon at the Regattabar in Cambridge. Zenon played music from his recent CD, "Identities are Changeable".

Miguel Zenon

MacArthur and Guggenheim fellow, Miguel Zenon, is an alto saxophonist originally from Puerto Rico. Inspired by his upbringing, Zenon blends Puerto Rican folk music and popular songs with jazz music. "Identities are Changeable" sheds light on the PuertoRican-American experience, blending his quartet, a twelve-piece big band,  and spoken word interviews from fellow PuertoRican-Americans. To learn more about Zenon, visit his website.

Watch this video explaining, "Identities are Changeable" here

Identities are changeable

I was very excited to attend Zenon's concert. I have seen him on a few occasions, playing with Kenny Werner, at the Beantown Jazz Festival, with SFJazz, and at the 2011 Newport Jazz Festival. "Identities are Changeable" is my favorite of his albums; in the summer I listened to it every day! At the Regattabar, Zenon performed with his quartet consisting of Luis Perdomo on piano, Hans Glawischnig on bass, Henry Cole on drums, and Zenon on alto saxophone.

Luis Perdomo

Watch this interview with Zenon here:

What I really got from the above interviews, is not only Zenon's concept for the album, but also how he communicated that concept through music. Zenon interweaves different rhythms to create this concept of a duality of identity. In his music, you can hear different melodies going in and out from each other. In this way, his music is constantly shifting and moving. One thing about this is that even though the music may look complicated because of the rhythms, Zenon keeps this sense of dance throughout his melodies.  

Hans Glawischnig
Zenon has an extremely unique sound on the alto saxophone. Light and buoyant, yet energetic and fierce, Zenon's lines are full of vocal style inflections. In the upper-register, Zenon flies like a bird, and creates textures through rhythmic placement and density. 

Listen to "Esta Plena" from Zenon's album "Esta Plena":

Throughout the concert, I noticed that Zenon's music over anything communicates this sense of joy. Zenon bounces back and forth while he plays, as if he is leaping into each phrase. The band communicates as one, and you could tell everyone was enjoying playing by their smiles. 

Recently I went to a masterclass where Kenny Werner said a good band feeds each other ideas during solos; seeing Zenon's band really illustrated this concept of back and forth communication. At one point in the music, Zenon was repeating this rhythm, and the entire band seemed to anticipate this by leaning in to the phrase with him.

Henry Cole 
It is interesting how the album incorporates the big band and spoken word interviews along with his traditional quartet. Both the concert and the album contain the same music, but I think anyone that enjoys the music will especially enjoy the addition of the spoken words. As someone who loves poetry, I enjoy the interweaving of words with music because it sounds as if the band is responding to what each person says. In fact, it reminds me of when I saw PoemJazz with Robert Pinsky and Vijay Iyer.

Listen to "Silencio" from Zenon's album "The Puerto-Rican Songbook":

Final thoughts: 
Meeting Zenon

The same day as this concert, I went to a masterclass where Joe Lovano talked about how where you are from affects your sound, and comes in to your music. One thing he said really struck me:
Ornette Coleman was from Texas and you can hear that in his playing. You approach music from your influences. You have to have a drive and passion to not do anything else. No one asked them to play like that
And this idea that no one asks you to play like your self really shined a light for me. Individualism becomes your identity. You are never just one thing, but you are always one person. And at the end of the day, identities are changeable.

My sketch of Miguel Zenon

Please visit my jazz poetry blog, "Without a Poem", where I improvise a new poem everyday. I also have artwork and music to accompany the poems, so stay tuned! This week inspired my haiku, "Identity".

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