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Miguel Zenon: Identities Are Changeable

Mark F. Turner By

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It would simply be enough to just hear Miguel Zenón's saxophone; its fluid, darting, humming bird-like maneuvers, soulful and piercing. Yet as one of the most distinctive altos in jazz, the Grammy nominated and Guggenheim and MacArthur Fellow is also a gifted composer who continues to deliver insights into his culture as vividly expressed in 2011's Alma Adentro: The Puerto Rican Songbook and 2009's Esta Plena, both released on Marsalis Music.

His ninth recording as a leader, Identities Are Changeable, is an ambitious project that finds Zenón with his longtime quartet (Luis Perdomo, piano; Hans Glawischnig, bass; Henry Cole, drums) and a large ensemble dubbed the Identities Big Band. The creative hook though is how the music is interwoven through a series of English-language interviews Miguel Zenón conducted with seven New Yorkers of Puerto Rican descent addressing what it means to be Puerto Rican in 21st-century New York City; questions that mirror Zenón's own identity since he moved from San Juan to New York in 1998.

Commissioned as a multi-media work by Montclair State University's Peak Performances series, the album version combines music and interviews into a brilliant program of jazz and dialog. The interviewees—who include Zenón's sister Patricia—make their introductions during the "¿De Dónde Vienes?" amidst churning horns and a spirited tempo. During the eight composition song cycle personal insights into the individual's backgrounds and aspirations emerge as the music colors its own narration.

Zenón's brings a fresh stylistic approach as a composer marked by melodicism and intrepid charts communicated in the ebb and flow of "My Home" with its elegantly sweeping movement that culminate in a powerful cyclical horn pattern. "Same Fight" encompasses a swinging Harlemesque blues vibe with interviews speaking of the cultural commonalities between African Americans and Puerto Ricans within the city. Music highlights abound such as Glawischnig's impressive bass solo in "Second Generation Lullaby" and the horn section's tumultuous trades with Zenón's serpentine solos. The charts give life to the interviewees' comments moving through polyrhythmic changes and moods.

Thought-provoking interviews, memorable performances, and excellent composition, Zenón's Identities Are Changeable has a distinct identity all its own.

Track Listing: ¿De Dónde Vienes? (Overture); Identities Are Changeable; My Home; Same Fight; First Language; Second Generation Lullaby; Through Culture And Tradition; ¿De Dónde Vienes? (Outro).

Personnel: Miguel Zenón: alto saxophone; Luis Perdomo: piano; Hans Glawischnig: bass; Henry Cole: drums; Will Vinson: alto saxophone; Michael Thomas: alto saxophones; Samir Zarif: tenor saxophone; John Ellis: tenor saxophone; Chris Cheek: baritone saxophone; Mat Jodrel: trumpet; Michael Rodríguez: trumpet; Alex Norris: trumpet; Jonathan Powell: trumpet; Ryan Keberle: trombone; Alan Ferber: trombone; Tim Albright: trombone.

Title: Identities Are Changeable | Year Released: 2014 | Record Label: Miel Music

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