Puerto Rican pride oozes from every album under alto saxophonist Miguel Zenón's name. Most recently, he explored plena
music in a jazz context on the winning Esta Plena
(Marsalis Music, 2009), and put a new spin on songs from the Puerto Rican Songbook with Alma Adentro
(Marsalis Music, 2011). While those projects differ greatly, with rough-and-tumble antics on the former and an air of refinement on the latter, they're both built on sturdy conceptual platforms that are supported by Puerto Rican pillars. Oye!!! Live In Puerto Rico
is another date that points toward Zenón's place of origin, but it stands apart from the rest because of its dressed-down nature. Zenón doesn't try to take on the mantle of musicologist/aural mixologist; he simply plays, though his playing is never simple.
Zenón and the Rhythm Collective first came together for a U.S. State Department tour of West Africa in 2003, and all of the music that appears on this album was conceived duringor inspired bythat experience. The edgy and the artful come together in covers and originals that don't lack for rhythmic vivacity, yet don't feel hemmed in by the grooves. The music often gives off a loose-and-open-ended feeling, but it also sizzles with percussive heat. Drummer Tony Escapa and percussionist Reynaldo de Jesus
burn with the fire of a thousand suns at times, but balance their frenetic energy with a more spacious outlook. Zenón and electric bassist Aldemar Valentin
share in their ability to blur lines, delivering melodic rhythms and rhythmic melodies throughout.
The album opens with the Santana
-swiped, Tito Puente
-penned "Oye Como Va." Zenón and crew don't necessarily follow either artist's footsteps as they work their way through the song. Starts and stops, stutters, subtle episodes, and scorching segments all surface during this song; Zenón even paints with snake charmer savoir-faire
in several places. "El Necio" follows, as Zenón proves the point that suave and smooth are two very different things; his horn dances with supreme style and brilliance as the grooves build and morph around him. Themes of uncertainty and openness come to the fore on the Paul Motian
-inspired "Hypnotized," while Afrobeat allure underlines "JOS Nigeria." The headiest of songsthe bubbling and bold "Double Edge"is held off until the very end.
Those accustomed to the sound of Zenón's studio-made records might need to acclimate to the more raw-and-rough appearance of Oye!!! Live In Puerto Rico
; it isn't mixed as cleanly as his other records, but the music more than makes up for that. These songs were recorded live in 2011, during a two-night stand at a now-defunct performance space in Rio Piedras, Puerto Rico, and the audiences at those shows were treated to something very special; now, everybody can get a taste of what they heard.