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Miguel Zenon: Awake

Mark F. Turner By

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Alto saxophonist Miguel Zenon delivers his most thought provoking recording to date with Awake , showing his growth as a performer and conceptualist. Whether performing with Charlie Haden's Liberation Music Orchestra, The SFJazz Collective, or leading his own groups, Zenon's piercing tonality and fierce playing is always identifiable. Not a trivial task, when considering a wealth of strong young altoists that includes Rudresh Mahanthappa, Loren Stillman and Steve Lehman.

Zenon brought fresh interpretations of native Puerto Rican rural music to Jibaro (Marsalis Music, 2005); on Awake the altoist now adds composition and instrument changes that include Fender Rhodes, a string quartet on two tracks and three additional horn players on one track. Continuing with his exhilarating and introspective musical ideas, the saxophonist comes out of the same mold of artists such as pianist Danilo Perez, drummer Dafnis Prieto and saxophonist Yosvany Terry Cabrera, who sing new songs in contemporary Latin jazz.

These ideas are the first things noticed on "Awakening - Prelude," where alto sax joins verdant strings, creating a cinematically rich classical music/jazz theme. It segues into "Camaron" with Zenon's exceptional quartet featuring longtime members bassist Hans Glawischnig, pianist Luis Perdomo (on Rhodes) and an exciting new drummer, Henry Cole. The quartet's modus operandi is heard on "Ulysses in Motion," where the interaction is perfect, and also on "Penta," which contains the same tricky rhythmic movements that marked Zenon's intuitiveness on Jibaro.

"Awakening - Interlude" is another highlight and, unfortunately, the only tune that features extended horns. What first appear as cacophonous voices are, in fact, a harmonious swirl of solos that climaxes into the recording's twelve-minute centerpiece, "Santo," a brilliant composition that includes breathtaking solos, grueling changes, and even chanting voices, reminiscent of "Morning Chant" from his 2004 Marsalis Music release, Ceremonial.

The remaining tracks are equally satisfying, and if there's one criticism it would be to experience the guest strings and horns on more tracks. But Awakening is outstanding, warranting repeated listens and represents a new chapter in the evolution of Miguel Zenon.

Track Listing: Awakening - Prelude; Camaron; Penta; The Missing Piece; Ulysses in Motion; Awakening - Interlude; Santo; Lamamilla; Third Dimension; Awakening - Postlude.

Personnel: Miguel Zenon: alto saxophone; Luis Perdomo: piano, Fender Rhodes; Hans Glawischnig: bass; Henry Cole: drums, percussion; Judith Insell: viola (1, 8); Orlando Wells: violin (1, 8); Marlene Rice: violin (1, 8); Nioka Workman: cello (1, 8); Tony Malaby: tenor sax (6); Michael Rodriguez: trumpet (6); Ben Gerstein: trombone (6).

Title: Awake | Year Released: 2008 | Record Label: Marsalis Music

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