With the relatively concurrent release of Wayne Shorter's new live recording, Beyond the Sound Barrier
, and alto saxophonist Miguel Zenon's Jibaro
, there are bound to be comparisons. Like Shorter, Zenon is a deep thinker, capable of taking the simplest Puerto Rican folk melodiesthe basis of Jibaro
and placing them into more harmonically and rhythmically complex contexts. Also like Shorter, Zenon's cerebral music requires an intense focus that makes considerable demands on both the musicians who play it and the listeners who experience it. And it's possible that Zenon will ultimately achieve the same degree of significance as Shorter. He is, after all, still young, yet he has a remarkably focused conception that distinguishes both his playing and his writing.
But there are important differences as well. Shorter's music, as complex as it can get, always relies on bold experimentation from his quartet, ensuring openness and a desire to let even the most challenging of constructs breathe. Shorter's recent work has an overriding sense of collective discovery that elevates it beyond concerns of arrangement, making every performance fresh and different. And while Shorter's music is never less than well thought out, it never feels overly considered.
Zenon, on the other hand, is nothing if not considered. In the press release for Jibaro
, he states, "Given my tendency to sometimes write music that is too difficult to play, I was sensitive to bringing the music to the point where it was difficult, but not impossible." Writing music that challenges its players to evolve and reach for hitherto unattainable levels of performance is not uncommon, nor is it inherently problematic; but the music on Jibaro
comes off as too earnest, too serious for its own good.
In addition to Zenon, this quartet features pianist Luis Perdomo, whose Focus Point
was one of the sleeper hits of the past year; bassist Hans Glawischnig, who has been making a name for himself supporting artists including guitarist Ken Hatfield and singer Carolyn Leonhart; and drummer Antonio Sanchez, who has a surprisingly large body of recorded work for such a young player and has bumped his profile up a notch in recent years through his association with guitarist Pat Metheny. With a quartet as good as this, one would hope that there'd be considerable room for expression, but Zenon keeps too tight a reign throughout the proceedings.
Complex metric shifts abound, and solos appear over clearly delineated sections. While there's a certain folksy naivete about some of the melodies Zenon draws upon, the feeling gets lost in the heavily detailed arrangements, with only the balladic "Enramada" creating any sense of space.
The beauty of Wayne Shorter's current group is that it brings a visceral quality to Shorter's heady charts; Zenon's group has equal potential to combine the head and the heart. Unfortunately, that simply doesn't happen on Jibaro
. But with so many of the raw materials in hand, it may be only a matter of time and maturation before Zenon develops into a truly important force.
Visit Miguel Zenon
on the web.