30. Miguel Zenón: Esta Plena (Marsalis Music, 2009)
The brilliant alto saxophonist Miguel Zenón, who won a genius grant from the MacArthur Foundation in 2008, mines the traditions of his native Puerto Rico on Esta Plena. This exquisite album melds the jazz ethic with plena, the percussion- and chant-heavy Puerto Rican folk music. The connection between jazz and Afro-Caribbean music has been explored in detail for decades, but Zenon’s attention to more abstruse traditions—or at least traditions unfamiliar to American ears—helped pave the way for younger musicians like pianist David Virelles, who has put out a series of scholarly albums investigating the musical folklore of Cuba, his birthplace.