Alto saxophonist Miguel Zenón, a member of the SFJAZZ Collective and Charlie Haden’s Liberation Orchestra, reveals more layers of his wide-ranging musicality on his third outing for Marsalis Music. In a striking departure from 2006’s Jibaro, his interpretation of rural music of Puerto Rico, Zenón effectively incorporates a string quartet on two pieces while showcasing with a three-piece horn section on another. The strings are especially well integrated into the fabric of the opening “Awakening—Prelude,” providing intricate counter melodies and intriguing harmonies for the alto saxophonist to fluently sail over with his big, bold tone. The addition of his Liberation Orchestra bandmates Tony Malaby on tenor sax and Michael Rodriguez on trumpet, along with trombonist Ben Gerstein on the furious blast of free-jazz titled “Awakening—Interlude,” lends an intense, avant-gardish quality to the proceedings.
Zenón’s working band of pianist Luis Perdomo, bassist Hans Glawischnig and drummer Henry Cole functions as a tightly knit unit throughout, engaging in some highly interactive, rhythmically charged playing on dynamic pieces like the “Third Dimension” and “Penta,” while expertly underscoring the alto player’s sensitive instincts and most impassioned wailing on the stirring “The Missing Piece.” Perdomo’s use of Fender Rhodes provides a different color and rhythmic texture on Zenón’s “Camaron,” “Ulysses in Slow Motion” and “Lamamilla,” recalling the earliest incarnation of Chick Corea’s Return to Forever. Bassist Glawischnig also plays an effective foil to the alto saxophonist with his virtuosic arco work on the dynamic, suitelike “Santo,” one of the highpoints of this stellar outing.