Publication: Los Angeles Times
Author: Chris Barton
Date: November 18, 2011
If there’s any way jazz can be compared to a fairground’s bumper cars, it’s that the excitement is in the collisions, those necessary (if far less violent) meetings between the music and an individual’s history, imagination and culture that create something new. This year jazz has been enjoying a particularly rewarding run of global collisions that have included the Middle Eastern explorations of trumpeter Amir ElSaffar, the Southern Asian influence in recent albums by Rudresh Mahanthappa and Rez Abbasi and fresh twists on Brazilian jazz in records by Anthony Wilson and Rob Mazurek’s Sao Paolo Underground.
An acclaimed saxophonist who has played with a variety of ensembles through the years as well as ongoing work as co-founder of the SFJAZZ Collective, Miguel Zenón has dedicated much of his career as a bandleader to exploring the intersection of jazz and the music of his native Puerto Rico. In 2009 Zenón earned critical raves and two Grammy nominations for “Esta Plena,” an album exploring a percussive side of Afro-Carribean folkloric tradition. For Zenón’s latest turn at musical cross-pollination, this year’s “Alma Adentro” turns its ear toward the Puerto Rican songwriters from Zenón’s childhood. (Zenón and his quartet perform at the Broad Stage in Santa Monica on Saturday.)
“I started thinking about the connection between the Great American Songbook and jazz music, how that basically fed the jazz repertoire for so long,” he said, speaking by phone before a performance in Oakland earlier this week. “I started thinking that maybe I could do the same thing and explore the Puerto Rican songbook and bring it into the jazz world, and at the same time introduce people to Puerto Rican composers who’ve meant so much to the development of music and culture there.”