Jibaro is Miguel Zenon's first entirely original set, his second Branford Marsalis-produced effort and his third disc with pianist Luis Perdomo, bassist Hans Glawischnig and drummer Antonio Sanchez. Inspired by the rural, working-class folk music of the Puerto Rican mountains, these 10 compositions fit together with a novelistic integrity, a coherence that marks a new high for this young altoist. During "Punto Cubano" and "Villaran" the folkloric elements leap out, but for the most part they're thoroughly enveloped in a searing modern-jazz sound, a quartet sensibility that Zenon and his mates have spent years developing. The result is profound yet joyful, as rhythmically precise as it is lyrical and limber.
Zenon may have consciously introduced an element of breath-temporal pauses, literally-into his otherwise dense music. Examples include the brief rest before the concluding head of "Seis Cinco" and the thematic use of space in the tightly composed "Aguinaldo." The latter is a study in delayed gratification, with Glawischnig's meditative solo laying the groundwork for Zenon's urgent, impassioned flight. "Chorreao" is an ideal vehicle for Sanchez-an almost James Brown-like throwdown, complicated by faint traces of jibaro roots music. On "Fajardeno," Zenon's legato melody and Perdomo's high voicings yield one of the album's most striking colors. And Perdomo's burning solos, particularly on "Villaran" and "Llanera," remind us that he is an emerging power in his own right.
Every piece on Jibaro merits much closer analysis, but what recommends this music most is its bountiful and beautiful soul.