The alto saxophonist Miguel Zenón won a MacArthur Fellowship in 2008 in part because he is enamored with discursive ideas, ways that music can interact beyond its own boundaries but still embody itself fully. As a spoken language—with conversation, interruption, debate and empathy all as ends in mind—improvised music can bear out the essence of a story, or a collection of poems, or the will of a people for freedom.
Rayuela , the first recorded collaboration between Zenón and the lissome French pianist Laurent Coq, takes on the 1963 Argentine novel of the same name, a book whose stream-of-consciousness narrative interrogates conflicts between liberation and dependence, order and entropy. Half of the album’s songs were written by Zenón and the other half by Coq, and all draw inspiration from individual passages in the novel. The debt owed is obvious; it lies in the album’s dualities, both stark and shifting. Zenón’s coruscating melodies often rise up and linger, declining resolution, as on “Talita” and “Gekrepten,” while Coq’s tolling adds its own seed of confluent contradictions. But there’s always something surefooted and reassuring here, like a mother’s bedtime story left to be continued the following night.
Zenón and Coq have said that they were attracted to the book largely for the way it questions and cuts open form, by encouraging readers to rearrange the order in which they read its pages. But form isn’t just about arc: It’s three-dimensional, and the dynamic of this album’s unlikely quartet gives it a special thickness. Cellist Dana Leong (who sometimes doubles on trombone) seems to draw all of his bandmates toward a center of gravity that’s firmly in the middle register, tugging them with his bow, sheer but rugged. And Dan Weiss, on drums and tabla, is all precision and intuition. Rayuela is a tremendous recording, but it’s also an exciting installment in the unfolding tale of Weiss’ emergence as a major drummer.