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Miguel Zenón: Típico (Miel)

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Miguel Zenón: Típico
Miguel Zenón: Típico

Típico is a welcome showcase for Miguel Zenón’s longstanding, yeoman quartet. Venezuelan pianist Luis Perdomo and Austrian bassist Hans Glawischnig have been onboard since the Puerto Rican alto saxophonist debuted with Looking Forward in 2002. Puerto Rican drummer Henry Cole replaced Antonio Sanchez shortly after the release of Jíbaro in 2005. As Zenón evolved into a compelling conceptualist, earning a Guggenheim Fellowship and a MacArthur Fellowship to help explore his musical heritage and the nuances of Latin identity in the U.S., he built out from this core ensemble, which remained a dynamic, flexible foil for his projects. Típico reverts the focus back to the quartet, and shorn of any sidemen or abiding thematic adornment, the distinctive character, energy and joy of their interaction—their sheer jazz—is spectacular.

The quartet is traditional in the sense that Zenón and Perdomo are the alpha and beta soloists while the rhythm section mostly lays the foundation. But Zenón helps emphasize the group’s unique lineage and personality by using folkloric Latin rhythms, melodies and harmonic cadences, especially on the title song and “Ciclo,” tracks three and four, which invigorate both the meat and the zest of their bristling postbop. They are preceded by the opener, “Academia,” which is built around the exercises Zenón developed for his private students at the New England Conservatory, but bears the giddiness of his own youthful scholarship as he reminds us that the alto is the roadster of reed phrase-making in his hands. That is followed by “Cantor,” with knotty time signatures in tribute to Zenón’s friend and collaborator, the pianist Guillermo Klein. No other quartet could pull off this particular four-song intro with such resplendent aplomb.

After a heartfelt ode to Zenón’s daughter (“Sangre Di Me Sangre,” a delightful contrast of Zenón’s buffered horn and Glawischnig’s woody bass), the final three songs are constructed upon phrases from each of the three cohorts who caught Zenón’s ear in recent years. The best of these is “Entre Las Raices,” kicked off by Perdomo’s scurrying notes and diffusing into some uncharacteristic but gloriously adept “outside” interplay. Típico eschews grand themes for ensemble intimacy, but Zenón’s latest triumph is no less resonant.

Originally Published