It is also the return of that great quartet. With Zenón on alto saxophone are pianist Luis Perdomo, bassist Hans Glawischnig, and drummer Henry Cole. Featured guest artists include Los Pleneros de la Cresta on panderos, percussion and vocals (track 2), Paoli Mejίas on percussion (track 3), Victor Emmanuelli on barril de bomba (track 6), and Daniel Diaz on congas (track 8). Each and every track was composed by Miguel Zenón.
The album opens with Tainos y Caribes which refers to the pre-Colombian Caribbean societies. “They were the two predominant societies but were very different: the Taínos were a more passive agricultural society while the Caribes were warriors who lived for conquest,” says Zenón. And he does a fantastic job of casting the image of these two disparate peoples. It begins with Perdomo’s rhythmic piano before Zenón adds his alto sax. The band has developed a telepathy that is oh-so-evident here and throughout the album. The rhythm section is marvelous in their furious exposition and development of the piece’s portrayal of clashing cultures.
Navegando (Las Estrellas Nos Guían) opens with nautical motifs of rising and falling in the description of the mariner subculture. The title translates as “Navigating the stars guide us” and Zenón says, “One thing that blew my mind was how they could travel the sea at long distances just using canoes while being guided by the stars.” Los Plenoeros de la Cresta add their remarkable percussion and vocals to the piece. Zenón’s smooth as silk alto guides the piece like Polaris.
Opresión Y Revolución follows with it rugged rhythms and challenging dissonance to reveal the revolutionary tensions across the continent. Zenón mentions the Haitian Revolution against the French, in particular. Paoli Mejίas’ percussive work with Perdomo’s equally percussive piano calls to mind the Voodoo rhythms of Haiti. It becomes clear by this point that this is indeed a musical documentary on the American continents.
Imperios and Venas Abiertas reveal opposite ends of the spectrum of American continental history from the rigidity and fury of empire to the exploitation of colonialism. In both cases, the music is intoxicating and fascinating with the rhythms, chord changes, and sheer virtuosity of the artists. Each one of the musicians deserve a concentrated hearing. That percussion is enhanced by Victor Emmanuelli on Bámbula which refers to the African dance rhythms brought to the New World from the Old.
Zenón’s América, El Continente continues the album’s theme of America, the continent, and its cultural isolation from the term America by the co-opting of the name by the United States. The piece is melancholy and charming, at the same time. The melody is lovely and the counterpoint of alto sax and piano is worth the attention.
The album closes with Antillano, named for the people of the Antilles. The forward-looking and hopeful attitude of the composition and performance is lush and warm. Daniel Dίaz’ congas add to the complexity with the subtly inserted odd-meter rhythms and the melodic lines of alto sax and piano are rapturous.
Miguel Zenón’s Música de Las Américas is, at once, entertaining and enlightening. Swinging and emotionally compelling, this is an album of incredible intelligence and warm heart. This album should be required listening for every person on the American continents.
~Travis Rogers, Jr. is The Jazz Owl