Publication: The New York Times
Author: Ben Ratliff
Date: February 7, 2012
MONTCLAIR, N.J. — It’s been a while since the saxophonist and composer Miguel Zenón has written a tune that wasn’t about something bigger than itself. Generally, he works without words or straight narrative — his medium is the small-to-medium-size jazz group — but he makes his music embody something: a process, a lesson, an idea.
Mr. Zenón was born and raised in Puerto Rico, and usually his bigger thoughts have arrived in the form of roots-minded albums, like his three records about aspects of his island’s musical culture: “Jíbaro” (2005), about the song form of back-country troubadours; “Esta Plena” (2009), about his island’s voice-and-percussion tradition; and “Alma Adentro” (2011), about Puerto Rico’s 20th-century standards.
On Saturday night at the Alexander Kasser Theater at Montclair State University he took the next organizational and conceptual step forward into a 90-minute multimedia work, “Puerto Rico Nació en Mi: Tales From the Diaspora.”
Performed for the first time, it involved his quartet, a 12-piece big band and video backdrop; it was commissioned by Peak Performances, Montclair State’s performing arts series. Mr. Zenón hasn’t written for big band before, or done the kind of deep cross-media collaboration going on here, between his music and the work of the video artist David Dempewolf. (Mr. Dempewolf worked on another jazz-related piece several years ago, Jason Moran’s “In My Mind.”) But already the project seems about as good as it could reasonably be in concept and execution. Read more »