Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Miguel Zenón and Luis Perdomo Put Out a Gorgeous, Bittersweetly Intimate Album of Boleros

Alto saxophonist Miguel Zenón has released some of the most exhilarating and forward-looking jazz in recent years, from his exploration of his Puerto Rican roots, to a string quartet collaboration. His latest album El Arte Del Bolero – streaming at Bandcamp – is much more straightforward but no less dynamic. Recorded live for a webcast last September, it’s a mix of classic boleros played as an intimate duo show with his longtime pianist collaborator Luis Perdomo, the guy who’s probably the ideal candidate for this kind of material.

Both artists had already played many of these tunes together over the years, although not typically in a duo setting. And much as boleros – on this side of the Atlantic, anyway – tend to be melancholy or mysterious, the duo span a huge range of emotion with them here. They also don’t constrain the songs to a bolero rhythm.

They take their time to open the album with an expansive take of Benny More’s Como Fue, Zenon playing the vocal line solo with a surprising mistiness before Perdomo enters the picture. Zenon rises to a gracefully leaping optimism as Perdomo lowlights his chords, then channels his usual gravitas in his own solo. At the end, they bring the song full circle.

They follow with a practically ten-minute, hauntingly spacious version of Alma Adentro. the Sylvia Rexach classic and title cut from Zenon’s 2012 album. Zenon nails the song’s searching, practically desperate quality, Perdomo echoing the theme with his judicious, emphatic chordal work and variations. And yet, as Zenon does occasionally through the set, he offers hope with a crystalline, melodica-like tone in the upper registers.

He rises to a more insistent drive in the third track, Ese Hastío, a remake of the Ray Barreto hit Piensa En Mi. Again, Perdomo anchors it with his lingering, soberly glistening lines. Zenon takes inspiration from how the great tres player and songwriter Arsenio Rodriguez reputedly wrote La Vida Es Un Sueño after discovered that the eyesight he’d lost in childhood couldn’t be restored. There’s hope against hope in Zenon’s balmy, cautiously sailing phrasing over Perdomo’s bittersweetly regal backdrop and quiet hailstorm of a solo.

The two hit as much of a peak as there is here with their version of singer La Lupe’s famous 1960s hit Que Te Pedí, from Zenon’s bounding solo intro, through a somberly unembellished couple of verses, to a trick ending – no spoilers! They bring the set full circle with a somewhat subdued yet animated version of crooner Cheo Feliciano’s Juguete, Zenon finally cutting loose with a long, flurrying solo, as he’s been threatening to do all along. Two of the most lyrical players in jazz, or any other kind of music, at the top of their game…quietly.

January 8, 2021 Posted by | jazz, latin music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Dark Psychedelic Romance with Miramar at Barbes

Saturday night at Barbes Miramar put on what had to be the most romantic show of the year, and one of the most haunting ones too. Like a Puerto Rican Las Rubias del Norte, they add swirling tremolo organ to classic boleros from the 1950s and 60s along with some choice originals that fit in perfectly with the old classics. Singers Rei Alvarez (also of Bio Ritmo) and Laura Ann Singh harmonized with a sometimes sultry, sometimes chilling chemistry over organist Marlysse Simmons-Argandona’s psychedelic swirl, anchored by an excellent rhythm section with baby bass, drums and bongos plus an acoustic guitarist. Their version of the famous Por Siempre had Simmmons-Argandona following a thoughtful, soulful guitar solo with one of her own that wouldn’t have been out of place in an Electric Prunes song. She switched to piano for a slow, swaying tune where the male singer tries to tell the girl he’s with that he’s not heartbroken – it’s just the hot food. Maybe, a Greek psychedelic rock ballad from the 1960s with bolero tinges, was the eeriest moment of the night, with some nice tremolo picking from the guitarist, maybe to mimic the oud on the original? It sounded like a Greek Chicha Libre.

The rest of the set was just as eclectic: the unexpectedly dark Amorada Madre Mia, with its guy/girl tradeoffs and intense, distorted organ solo; Insatiable, with more of a dramatic tango feel; a romantic island tableau done as a piano nocturne; the stately waltz Estatua, an Alvarez original; and a conversation between a man and woman, again reaching for a tango atmosphere with incisive organ and crescendoing Spanish guitar. They closed with an elegant duet version of Sylvia Rexach’s iconic En Mis Suenos, full of restrained longing, and a number that once again brought to mind Chicha Libre, echoey electric piano vamping hypnotically, with searching, soaring harmonies and a long, spiraling guitar solo. They didn’t play their devastating version of Rexach’s signature song, Di Corazon (they were saving that for the second set), which is available on their pretty amazing new album at their bandcamp site.

March 7, 2011 Posted by | concert, latin music, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Album of the Day 8/2/10

Every day, we count down the 1000 best albums of all time all the way to #1. Monday’s album is #911:

Sylvia Rexach – 20 Canciones Inolvidables

Sylvia Rexach was sort of the Puerto Rican Edith Piaf, a doomed bolero songwriter who drank herself to death at 39 in 1961. The sadness in her voice is visceral: fifty years later, she still has a cult following among latin music fans. Much of what’s here is just voice and acoustic guitar (she was a fluent player, also adept at piano and saxophone) with hits from the fifties including Alma Adentro (Soul Inside), Di Corazon (Tell Me, Sweetheart), Olas y Arenas (Waves and Sand) and Nave Sin Rumbo (Rudderless Ship). Unlike Piaf, Rexach’s lyrics (she was also a highly regarded poet) employ simple, metaphorically charged imagery; the resignation in her vocals can be chilling. She partied hard, and it doesn’t seem that anyone was particularly surprised that she died so young. Original copies of her singles (she released many, including her biggest early hits, Alma Adentro and Di Corazon, before any of them were put on album) are collectors items. This collection has some filler (a couple of pointless instrumental versions), and obviously the sonics don’t come close to the warmth of the original vinyl. But all that stuff has been out of print for decades, at least stateside. It’s floating around the web if you feel like downloading it.

August 2, 2010 Posted by | latin music, lists, Music, music, concert, world music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment