Miguel Zenon, the star pupil of the Berklee in Puerto Rico program associated with the Heineken Jazzfest, is Looking Forward
in his first release to assorted musical inroads in jazz through a noteworthy effort. The only three tunes he did not write, for example, are superbly handled and given attractive new profiles under Zen'n's scalpel-like alto sax, touched with darkened matter full of life.
As a self-avowed Christian, Zenon opens and closes with musical compositions in lieu of prayers. Both pieces, although brief, are self-contained in meaningful performances.
On "Looking Forward" and "El Bloque," Zen'n pairs his alto with David Sanchez's tenor. The comparisons between the two will be inevitable as their careers interject significantly. What, however, would be the result of such an assessment? Is Zenon too close to Sanchez? Does Zenon already have a well-developed sense of self-identity that would warrant immediate contrasts? Well, buy the record and be the judge. What is my judgment on the matter? Zenon is Zenon and Sanchez is Sanchez.
On "Yochabel," the piano work of Luis Perdomo grabs your immediate attention giving Zenon's flurries plenty of support and daring new collective levels to emerge.
"Pequena Serenata Diurna" presents a jazz treatment based on a song from Castro's Silvio Rodriguez. Although the Spanish title suggests a daytime serenade, this surely is not a static ballad. Zenon receives full attention and the lady says yes in the end and invites him in...
"Campanitas de Cristal," originally authored by one of the most prominent Latin American composers, is one of my favorite songs ever; therefore, my opinion on this remarkable reinterpretation by Zenon is biased. This is the most advanced instrumental interpretation of this composition I have ever heard. Hats off to the bassist Hans Glawischnig who does enrich this session and the rest of the recording with his own take on the varied crossroads that play a part in Looking Forward.
"Anxiety," which is the human biological response to fear and the flight or fight response, is well represented through free jazz forms in this tune, which would work better if the vocals would've faded out at some point rather than becoming an ongoing distraction. The songs sung and the rhythms played are taken from the Bomba musical Puerto Rican traditions. The free jazz on top is fantastic!
"El Bloque" reminds one of a tennis match and will get your head bobbing from side to side with its Bomba-like rhythmic base. Such fun surrenders into matters more pensive when S'nchez, as mentioned before, appears on this tune trading rhetoric worthy of the best Greek orators.
"J.S.B." is Bach dressed in jazz attire designed by a South American clothier. Venezuelan Luis Perdomo, once again helps to speed matters along.
For those of us who had plenty of opportunity to slow dance to the passionate "Alma con Alma" during our adolescence, hearing such a Classic in the hands of Zenon is both a thrill and a treat. These fellows have a strong harmonic romance with the compellingly fine-looking melody and it shows in how they make love to it.
"El Cruze" is a term musicians use to describe someone who is off beat, particularly those who have to deal with keeping certain types of music within the domain of the Cuban clave time pattern. Is this tune off-clave? Does it matter? This performance would be the equivalent to the ubiquitous jam session, or descarga, expected from almost any type of Latin Jazz player. There is, however, much more here than a jam session. Just as the rest of the album, this tune is so enriched that one sitting will not do justice to its treasures' Latin or otherwise'
Track Listing: 1. Prayer #1 (Blessing) 2. Looking Forward 3. Yochabel 4. Peque?a Serenata Diurna 5. Campanitas de Cristal 6. Anxiety 7. El Bloque 8. J.S.B. 9. Alma con Alma 10. El Cruze 11. Prayer #2 (Thanksgiving)
Personnel: Miguel Zenon-alto sax, percussion (10), background vocals (6), flute (11), Antonio Sanchez-drums, background vocals (6), Luis Perdomo-piano, background vocals (6), Hans Glawischnig-bass, background vocals (6), Pernell Saturnino-bomba drum & background vocals (6), cajon (8), congas and percussion (10), bomba drum (11), David S?nchez-tenor sax (2 & 7), William Cepeda-bomba drum (2, 6, 7, 11), lead & background vocals (6), Diego Urcola-trumpet (10), Ben Monder-electric guitar (6).