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Publication: Mercury News
Author: Richard Scheinin
Date: June 1, 2013
When he is on his game — and he often is — alto saxophonist Miguel Zenón combines qualities of sheer romance, sanctified spirit and mathematical precision. In all of jazz, not too many players operate at his level. When his improvised solos really get moving, he rocks back on his heels and the notes just fly, like blizzards of diamonds.
Zenón, 36, is in the midst of a residency at the SFJazz Center: four nights, each showcasing a different one of the saxophonist’s projects. Friday’s event was so good it almost hurt to listen, as Zenón reprised his 2011 album “Alma Adentro: The Puerto Rican Songbook.” It features ten tunes by five great Puerto Rican songwriters: ballads, boleros, gorgeous stuff, all arranged by Zenón for his quartet and a 10-piece wind ensemble, orchestrated by Guillermo Klein, the Argentinian arranger and composer.
As good as the album is, Friday’s performance was better.
It felt more lived in, more spacious and directly heartfelt. Zenón and his quartet — pianist Luis Perdomo, bassist Hans Glawischnig, drummer Henry Cole — have played together for years, so one would almost expect this level of know-how and emotion from them. Friday’s wild card was the 10-piece ensemble, assembled from the ranks of classical free-lancers around the Bay Area. With a single rehearsal, the group mastered the difficult charts and sounded splendid, wholly entering into the spirit of the collaboration.
Raised in San Juan, Puerto Rico, Zenón - now a New Yorker, as well as a winner (in 2008) of a MacArthur “genius” award - is immersed in his Caribbean roots, even as he brings a modern perspective to “Alma Adentro.”