Oye!!! (Live in Puerto Rico)
Miguel Zenón & The Rhythm Collective
We often spend a good deal of time considering a musician’s background, training, and influences, but there’s an important and more immediate element that can have a huge impact upon the way that a musician performs – context. This can take many shapes, with each one playing a distinctive part upon the way that we hear an artist. It may revolve around a specific instrumentation, a musical genre, or even a unique performance space; whether the new context is tangible or conceptual, the elements that surround a musician make a big difference. For better or worse, any of these elements can completely change the way that a performer perceives the music, resulting in a new approach. A musician may have a completely defined style of performance, but place them in a new context and their whole musical output sounds different. At the same time, you can take a specific performance context and throw a wild card musician into the mix, turning everything in an exciting and original direction. It’s a reflection of one of the things that makes jazz beautiful – we love hearing the way that a musician reacts to the world around them; change that world and you get something new, and its often something inspired. We get to hear a new side to saxophonist Miguel Zenón on Oye!!! (Live in Puerto Rico), as he takes his music in a different direction by exploring a more percussive context without a chordal instrument within his group the Rhythm Collective.
Pushing Well-Known Songs Towards Something New And Exciting
The group’s unique nature quickly becomes apparent as they put new spins on a couple of well-known cover songs. Zenón shows a smart handle on melodic development, weaving an introductory solo around the familiar melody on Tito Puente’s “Oye Como Va” without actually stating it obviously until a band break leads the group into a collection or chords from Valentin and double time feel from the drummers. The rhythm section accents around Zenón’s angular take on the traditional melody, putting a distinctly unique spin on a Latin Jazz classic. While Zenón works improvisational magic around the vamp, Valentin, Escapa, and De Jesús consistently push the groove in new and exciting direction, pushing the saxophonist into magically spontaneous turns. Zenón’s solo climaxes dramatically around band breaks, thinning the texture for a dexterous and memorable improvisation from Valentin. After a return to the melody, Zenón, Valentin, and Escapa leap into a collection of hits that frame an awe inspiring solo from De Jesús who powerfully matches virtuosity with melodic invention. Zenón cleverly inserts a wealth of different emotions into his unaccompanied saxophone intro, from playful and rhythmic to understated and coy on Silvio Rodriguez’s “El Necio,” bringing the main melody to life over chords from Valentin and an intensive groove from the drummers. Escapa and De Jesús fall into a coloristic and open feel behind Valentin, who owns the space with powerful collections of chords, arpeggiated figures, and virtuosic licks. An abrupt percussion break sends the group charging into a ferocious solo from Zenón, who flies through his improvisation with clever takes upon the melody, bursts of sharp rhythmic edges, and boldly stated ideas before handing things back to Valentin for another reflective pause. While the core of these songs are easily recognizable, the group pushes them through their distinct approach with vast amounts of musicality, delivering something new and exciting.
Original Compositions That Emphasize Linear Melodies And Rhythmic Attack
Zenón takes advantage of the distinctive quartet and stretches himself as a composer, enthusiastically exploring this new setting with a collection of original songs. An introspective improvisation from Zenón captures the emotional attention of the ensemble on “Hypnotized,” opening into a sensitive give and take with Valentin amid atmospheric embellishments from Escapa and De Jesús. The band falls into an askew groove based on shifting time signatures, giving Escapa and De Jesús an opportunity to comment upon the music subtly until Zenón takes the lead with a potent solo. There’s a balance between exploration, purposeful statement, and spontaneous interaction throughout Zenón’s solo, helping him build into a simmering passion, assisted by smart interplay from Escapa. An incessant but joyful bass line from Valentin forms a firm and steady foundation for “Jos Nigeria,” allowing Zenón the space to develop a memorable and distinctively singable melody. Zenón enthusiastically constructs a lively solo around the song’s form, playing off the bouncy rhythm and decidedly major harmony with an addictive creative vigor. The accessible nature of this song’s melody and harmony, as well as the fairly traditional structure, really presents a nice contrast within a set of highly exploratory pieces. Zenón and Valentin engage in a head-spinning rhythmic displacement on “Double Edge” until the drummers jump into the mix for a tense and aggressive groove that inspires a frenzied melody from Zenón. The saxophonist charges through a fiery improvisation that utilizes blazing flights of virtuosity that step both in and outside the chord changes, as well as sharp rhythmic edges and an unwavering momentum. A melodic interlude takes the band through a half time cha cha cha and brief 6/8 feel before they storm back into another impassioned statement from Zenón. A second trip through the interlude transitions the band into a overwhelmingly climatic exchange between Escapa and De Jesús that takes the group into a completely new level of intensity. By writing for this group, Zenón creates some highly engaging songs that emphasize linear melodies and put a heavy emphasis upon rhythm, all of which give the quartet some serious musical material that they bring to life enthusiastically.
An Inspired, Aggressive, And Exciting Side Of Zenón
The percussive heavy chordless context brings out an inspired, aggressive, and exciting side of Zenón and the Rhythm Collective on Oye!!! (Live in Puerto Rico). The quartet consists of top flight musicians that have proved themselves in more traditional contexts, so one of the most interesting things that comes out of the album is the choices they make here. The lack of a chordal instrument affords a number of freedoms to Zenón as a soloist, and opens the door to exciting rhythmic ideas. At the same time, the context forces Valentin into a certain approach, as he needs to outline chords consistently to make sure that the harmony is clearly apparent. The bottom line lies around the creative momentum of the ensemble; making us hear Zenón consider how he will use those freedoms instead of abusing them or how Valentin will employ different bass techniques or harmonic implications to establish the foundation. Escapa and De Jesús provide a consistently inspiring foundation, integrating the powerful rhythmic push of traditional Latin Jazz while framing the songs with a coloristic freedom found in modern jazz. With track times ranging between ten and fifteen minutes, there’s an undeniable emphasis upon improvisation and communication throughout the performance. This performance is far from a self-indulgent jam session though; there’s some intense listening and interaction as the musicians support each other with meaningful statements. Oye!!! (Live in Puerto Rico) is an exciting ride full of exploration, expression, and awe-inspiring musicality that deserves repeated listens, showing us an inspiring new side to Zenón and the musicians in the Rhythm Collective that I hope we hear again in the future.
1. Oye!!! (Intro) (Miguel Zenón)
2. Oye Como Va (Tito Puente)
3. El Necio (Silvio Rodriguez)
4. Hypnotized (Miguel Zenón)
5. JOS Nigeria (Miguel Zenón)
6. Double Edge (Miguel Zenón)
7. The Edge (Outro) (Miguel Zenón)
Miguel Zenón – alto saxophone; Aldemar Valentin – electric bass; Tony Escapa – drums; Reynaldo De Jesús – percussion
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