Miguel Zenón – Awake – Marsalis Music 74946-0009-2, *****:
(Miquel Zenón, alto sax; Luis Perdomo, piano/Fender Rhodes; Hans Glawischnig, bass; Henry Cole, drums/percussion; String quartet (tracks 1 & 8), Tony Malaby, tenor sax on tr. 6; Michael Rodriquez, trumpet on Tr. 6; Ben Gerstein, trombone on Tr. 6)
Let me preface this by saying my No. 1 desert island jazz album is Stan Getz’s Focus. I’m a pushover for sax or piano with strings or orchestra, and I find this new effort from Puerto Rican saxist/composer Miguel Zenón to be right up there with the Getz’s effort, though quite different. This is the saxist’s third album for Marsalis Music, and I’m not soft-pedaling the mentoring of Branford Marsalis in producing this terrific album. All ten tracks were composed and arranged by Zenón over the past two or three years. He reports that the period he went thru while writing these works was one about personal growth – trying to find himself as a musician and understanding what it means to have a career in music.
Zenón wanted to get new colors into this new album, and brought in Luis Perdomo on four tracks playing the Fender Rhodes plus stretching into new territories to write string quartet parts and a three-piece horn section on some of the tracks. The gestation of the entire suite is the opening track, Awakening, which serves as the prelude to the suite to follow. In the middle of the suite it returns in an arrangement for the horns, as an interlude. And the final track of the album is Zenón playing unaccompanied solo alto sax in the same Awakening theme. In addition to the striking Awakening theme, I was struck by the track Santo – which includes chanting voices of the ensemble supporting the spiritual theme of the selection. Zenón credits Branford Marsalis and his audio engineer as aiding him in making the sound as good as it could be. And it’s terrific – this is an album far beyond the usual sax & string outing and revealing a unique statement that communicates passion, intellect and spirit to the the listener.
Awakening Prelude, Camaron, Penta, The missing piece, Ulysses in slow motion, Awakening interlude, Santo, Lamamilla, Third dimension, Awakening postlude.
– John Henry