Miguel Zenon: Esta Plena (2009)
From the fruits of winning both a MacArthur ("genius grant") and Guggenheim Fellowship in 2008, alto saxophonist Miguel Zenón, expands his clear vision of modern jazz and Puerto Rican folk music in Esta Plena. With an incisive voice, his involvement with the SFJAZZ Collective, Guillermo Klein's Y Los Gauchos and Charlie Haden's Liberation Music Orchestra is well documented, but his own recordings are what truly reflect his unique heritage and identity.
Where Zenón's Jibaro (Marsalis Music, 2005) explored the diverse folk Culture Musica Jibara (Jibaro Music), this project finds Zenón doing more research and culminating with fresh interpretations of la plena, which is described as "a by-product of Spanish Colonization, combining African rhythmic syncopations with European harmonies and melodic cadences." More simply put: the musical equivalent of the H1N1 virus, it is delightfully infectious.
Joined by an excellent quartet for more than five years consisting of pianist Luis Perdomo, bassist Hans Glawischnig and drummer Henry Cole, these new explorations exhilarate with the added bonus of an authentic plena group which includes Hector "Tito" Matos, Obanilu Allende, and Juan Gutierrez on vocals and panderos (hand-held single-head drums).
The ten tracks are split between five instrumental and five vocal, with Zenón writing the music and lyrics. A delicate tightrope is traveled as urban street music fuses with the traditional; compositions that swing and sing, lighting fires as heard in the title ("This Plena"), sweet vocal harmonies in "Oyelo" ("Listen To This!!!"), socially conscious commentary in "Que Sera de Puerto Rico" ("What Will Become of Puerto Rico?") and a tale of celebration in "Despidida" ("New Year's Eve"), as the group quotes "Auld Lang Syne" before leading into enticing vocals and music.
Everything about Esta Plena embodies excellencememorable performances from everyone, vigorous composition, and improvisational freedomtranslated by Zenón's respectful handling of the "people's music," encouraging exploration of its history and present.
Track Listing: Villa Palmeras; Esta Plena; Oyelo; Residencial Llorens Torres; Pandero y Pagode; Calle Calma; Villa Coope; Que Sera de Puerto Rico?; Progresso; Despedida.
Personnel: Miguel Zenon: alto saxophone, background vocals; Luis Perdomo: piano; Hans Glawischnig: acoustic bass; Henry Cole: drums; Hector "tito" Matos: lead vocals, percussion (requinto); Obanilu Allende: background vocals, percussion (segundo); Juan Gutierrez: background vocals, percussion (seguidor).