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Miguel Zenón: Música de las Américas (Miel)

A review of the alto saxophonist's album that grapples with weighty geographical and sociopolitical subjects

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Miguel Zenón: Música de Las Américas (Miel)
The cover of Música de las Américas by Miguel Zenón

Of all the jazz records that addressed the interiority of lockdown, alto saxophonist Miguel Zenón and pianist Luis Perdomo’s 2020 album El Arte del Bolero might stand the tallest. The record reframed the Latin American bolero form within a jazzy context, winning Zenón and Perdomo a Grammy for Best Latin Music Album.

So after tenderly capturing a moment in time—they even recorded the album without knowing it’d be an album—it’s exalting to hear their engines in a higher gear. Música de las Américas features Zenón’s longtime quartet with Perdomo, bassist Hans Glawischnig, and drummer Henry Cole.

This is no conventional quartet date, though, for two major reasons. The first is that Zenón, Perdomo, Glawischnig, and Cole are augmented by outside rhythmists by way of Puerto Rican ensemble Los Pleneros de la Cresta—to say nothing of percussionist Victor Emmanuelli on “Bambula.” The second is that Música de las Américas grapples with unbelievably weighty geographical and sociopolitical subjects: colonization, the nature of empires, dimensions of being Indigenous, all mapped onto the history of the American continent.

But all this context and history wouldn’t matter if it weren’t married to arresting music, and Música de las Américas doesn’t just live up to El Arte del Bolero; it’s a major step forward. If it moves you to do some reading or exploring, by all means: Music like this is meant to galvanize. But if you simply want to let it wash over you, that’s just as valid: These are bona fide pros with reams of personality and heart. Head-turning melodies, crackling rhythms, and swinging for days—that’s what great jazz is all about, no matter where on our planet its inspiration lies.

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Learn more about Música de las Américas on Amazon, Apple Music, and Barnes & Noble.

Before & After: Miguel Zenón

Morgan Enos

Morgan Enos is a music journalist primarily focused on jazz and classic rock — while increasingly plumbing the outer reaches of classical, pop, hip-hop, metal, and more with each passing year. By day, he works as the Staff Writer at GRAMMY.com, an editorial site run by the Recording Academy; by night, he freelances for a number of publications, including JazzTimes. He lives in Hackensack, New Jersey with his wife and two cats. Learn more at morganenos.com.