Michael J. West reviews Miguel Zenón’s new CD, 'Alma Adentro.'
Alma Adentro is alto saxophonist Miguel Zenón’s most ambitious exploration yet of Puerto Rico’s music. It is also his best. The disc surveys the Puerto Rican Songbook, but Zenón assumes command of each tune with ease. The project features his regular quartet (pianist Luis Perdomo, bassist Hans Glawischnig, drummer Henry Cole) and a 10-piece wind ensemble conducted and arranged by Guillermo Klein.
Zenón controls the compositions with a balance of domination and restraint. His and Glawischnig’s unaccompanied meander on the first third of Tite Curet Alonso’s “Temes” de-emphasizes the song’s harmonic and rhythmic tension by de-emphasizing harmony and rhythm themselves. When the full band arrives, however, Zenón immediately succumbs to what he’d warded off, pushing at the changes and playing impatient rubatos that urge the music forward. On the title track, Zenón lays out for a full minute, letting the others evoke scenic melodrama before making a soft entrance that swells into unbridled passion.
The winds are primarily concerned with lending subtlety and color (“Silencio,” “Perdón”); Klein’s eccentricities of rhythm and texture emerge on “Olas y Arenas,” with its 5/8 time and scattershot piano-clarinet duet, and the manic clash of tempo and accent in “Tiemblas.” But Alma Adentro is essentially a quartet record, Cole maintaining a spirit of rawness while Glawischnig and Perdomo counter Zenón’s hyperactive phrasing with space and lyricism. Zenón does tend to overplay in terms of both density and velocity, an indication that even an artist as accomplished as himself has room to mature. Still, this sound is uniquely Miguel Zenón, and it contributes indelibly to the album’s splendor.