How good can sax-and-piano duets get? If alto saxophonist Miguel Zenón and pianist Luis Perdomo hadn’t recorded their Jazz Gallery livestream from last September, we wouldn’t have a new answer to that question. “We recorded this music as a live show, all in one take, without much preparation other than discussing tonalities and some basic elements on form,” Zenón said in a statement. “We chose compositions from the Bolero era that we could just play right away, without giving it a second thought.”
The result is El Arte del Bolero, wherein Zenón, who hails from Puerto Rico, and Perdomo, who’s from Venezuela, plumb an ocean of Latin-American standards and emerge with tunes that are maximum-haunting in this context, like the Benny Moré-popularized “Como Fue,” Cuban mastermind Arsenio Rodriguez’s “La Vida Es Un Sueño,” and Puerto Rican composer Bobby Capó’s “Juguete.”
El Arte del Bolero’s presentation is low-key—Miel Music gave it a digital-only release in January—but that belies how gorgeous it is. When the slow-tempo bolero form is stripped back to only two components, the compositions enter a new plane of luminous beauty. Such ultra-spareness might turn into wallpaper in lesser musicians’ hands, but every line Zenón blows has a dramatic trajectory and harmonic integrity, and Perdomo conjures majestic spindrifts beneath each one.
Endlessly listenable, emotionally probing, and ECM-level atmospheric, El Arte del Bolero is a treasure box you’ll return to again and again. Not bad for two guys in an empty venue during a pandemic, finding solace in tunes they’ve known all their lives.