Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Miguel Zenon Explores Multimedia Jazz and Nuyorican Identity on His Majestically Insightful New Big Band Album

It’s never safe to nominate anybody as being the very best on a given instrument – unless maybe it’s something obscure like the contrabass clarinet. As long as Kenny Garrett’s around, it’s especially unsafe to put an alto saxophonist at the front of that pack. But it is probably safe to say that no other alto player has been on as much of a creative roll as Miguel Zenon has been lately. His sound, and his songs, can be knotty and cerebral one minute, plaintive and disarmingly direct or irresistibly jaunty the next. His latest album, Identities Are Changeable (streaming at Spotify), explores the complexities of Nuyorican heritage with characteristic thoughtfulness and verve. He and his longtime quartet – pianist Luis Perdomo, bassist Hans Glawischnig and drummer Henry Cole – have a a rare Bronx show coming up on March 20 at 7:30 PM at the Hostos Center Theater, 450 Grand Concourse, 2/4/5 to Grand Concourse/149th St. Tix are very reasonable, $15/$7.50 stud/srs.

It’ll be especially interesting to see how Zenon handles the music from the new album onstage, not only because it’s a big band album but that it’s a mix of jazz and spoken word. The ensemble opens with De Donde Vienes (i.e. “where you from?”), which sets a pastiche of Zenon’s friends and family explaining their sometimes tangled roots over a lively, circularly vamping backdrop. The title track begins the same way, a discussion of cultural identity and assimilation set to a more skeletal vamp, which then builds to a bright, trumpet-fueled largescale arrangement. Zenon finally makes his entrance on a dancing yet pensive note, aptly depicting the New York/Puerto Rico dichotomy that sometimes pulls at Nuyoricans. Perdomo follows with one of his signature glistening interweaves before the brass brings back a tense balminess, a storm moving in on Spanish Harlem.

My Home, another big band number moves from shifting sheets of horns into a moody, syncopated clave lit up by more carefree Zenon phrasing behind the snippets of conversation and finally a majestic, darkly pulsing coda. Same Fight, an elegantly but intensely circling big band waltz offers some fascinating insights on commalitities between Nuyoricans and American blacks: “If I didn’t speak Spanish, people would assume I was African-American,” one commentator relates. A somewhat more sternly rhythmic variation, First Language, follows, with some deliciously interwoven brass and Tim Albright’s thoughtfully crescendoing trombone solo

Second Generation Lullaby bookends a starkly dancing bass solo with a more lavishly scored, warmly enveloping variation on the initial waltz theme. The most salsafied track is Through Culture and Tradition, mixing up high-voltage bomba and plena rhythms and riffage into a large ensemble chart that’s just as epically sweeping as it is hard-hitting. Zenon closes with a relatively brief outro that brings the album full circle. What might be coolest about the entire project is that all the talking isn’t intrusive and actually offers a very enlightening look at how cultures in New York both blend and stay proudly true to their origins. It’s a sweet album from Miel Music (sorry, couldn’t resist).

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November 16, 2014 Posted by | jazz, latin music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

No Restrictions on Great Tunesmithing From Iris Ornig

Bassist Iris Ornig’s latest album No Restrictions has a lot to offer: translucent compositions, terse arrangements, purposeful playing. It has a lot in common with pianist Danny Green’s latest release (recently reviewed here), a tuneful mix of tropically-tinged romps and ballads. The cast of musicians alongside Ornig – Kurt Rosenwinkel on guitar, Helen Sung on piano, Michael Rodriguez on trumpet and Marcus Gilmore on drums – embraces the bassist’s welcoming melodicism as well as her fondness for Brazilian rhythms and tones. Ornig doesn’t solo much, but when she does, even that is catchy, which pretty much sums up this album.

The understatedly jaunty, bossa-flavored ballad Autumn kiss opens, Rodriguez fluttering warmly over a rich chordal groove, Rosenwinkel’s terse sostenuto picking up and then going flying. Likewise, the distantly gospel-tinged ballad We Shall Meet Beyond the River is a showcase for Rodriguez’ warmly sustained, soulful approach, Gimore’s hushed brushes whispering behind Ornig’s judicious, incisive drive.

The upbeat Venus As a Boy works a catchy guitar hook over a bossa pulse spiced with coyly pouncing piano/bass riffage, a hard-hitting but nimble Sung solo folllowed by Rosenwinkel cartwheels. The title track, another bright bossa tune, has Sung dancing and then handing off to Rodriguez’ incisive shuffle. If Anything Goes Wrong, a trio piece, opens with a long, lyrical, gorgeously tender solo piano intro. Finally, Ornig takes a solo, tiptoeing judiciously over Sung’s gleaming embers, handing off to a similarly rhythmic piano solo that engages Gilmore’s lithe cymbals – and then Sung continues the upward arc with variations on the bass solo.

The Way You Make Me Feel works its way from steady swing to an Afro-Cuban groove, Rodriguez nonchalantly building his solo from carefully spaced pulses, Ornig bouncing and prancing through hers with bluesy horn voicings. Gate 29, a funky, nocturnal shuffle that would work as a quirky film or tv theme, has a neatly concealed exchange between Ornig and Sung following soulfully crescendoing Rodriguez and Rosenwinkel solos, Spark of Light, a pulsing, anthemic clave tune, alternates lush orchestration with a direct hookiness carried by the trumpet and then the guitar. The closing track, Uptight (a sarcastic title if there ever was one) works a relaxed, funky swing, Ornig’s prominent, woodtoned swing lines and solo anchoring Rosenwinkel’s wry, restrained yet pillowy chords and accents.  There’s also an absolutely gorgeous, alternate version of the title cut with a more relaxed, sustained guitar drive to it. It’s one of the most consistently enjoyable albums of the past several months. Ornig is at the Garage with her band on March 24 at around midnight.

March 19, 2013 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment