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Miguel Zenón & The Rhythm Collective: Oye!!! Live In Puerto Rico

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The deeper alto saxophonist Miguel Zenón goes into Puerto Rico’s musical legacy, the better his own music gets. Zenón’s exploration of his Afro-Caribbean roots has been a staple of his solo career since it began in the early 2000s, though it kicked into high gear after his receipt of the MacArthur “genius grant” fellowship in 2008. He did his richest work yet on the two albums that followed the fellowship, 2009’s Esta Plena and 2011’s Alma Adentro, which fused jazz with Puerto Rico’s urban folk music and popular songbook respectively. What characterized these works was their increasing focus. The latter, in particular, concentrated on the songs, with arrangements that worked with the compositions and improvisations that used them as a distinct context-discipline that comes with artistic maturity.

In that sense, Oye!!! Live in Puerto Rico-recorded at a now-defunct venue in San Juan-is something of a step backward. Actually, it’s a step off the path. Zenón is accompanied not by his regular quartet but by a chordless group: bassist Aldemar Valentin, drummer Tony Escapa and percussionist Reinaldo De Jesus. Nor does it focus on songs: The band is designed to accentuate rhythm, and they use the album’s five tunes (two Latin standards and three Zenón originals, none of them specifically drawn from or inspired by Puerto Rican traditions) as a launch pad for abstract rhythmic experiments. The resulting self-indulgence spills over into the arrangements, improvisations and overall structures of the pieces.

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