The evolution of Miguel Zenón has been unpredictable and intriguing. Along with being the lone remaining charter member in the SFJazz Collective octet and the longtime leader of a whirlwind postbop quartet, the altoist has developed a fertile catalog of work blending jazz with the folkloric roots of his native Puerto Rico. Originally goosed along by funding from the Guggenheim and a MacArthur “genius grant” fellowship, he’s targeted specific genres, composers, and themes related to the island, variously utilizing a large woodwind and brass ensemble, a big band, and spoken-word interviews to help mine this vein over the course of a half-dozen discs.
Now comes Yo Soy La Tradición (I Am the Tradition), comprising eight Zenón originals for alto saxophone and string quartet, both creatively and structurally inspired by the mores and rhythms of Puerto Rico’s religious, cultural, and musical traditions. The relative absence of improvisation makes it an acquired taste for jazz fans, but Zenón’s frequently beautiful scores, woven through Chicago’s Spektral Quartet, are an arresting, increasingly accessible blend of simplicity and sophistication.