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Miguel Zenón To Release ‘Sonero: The Music of Ismael Rivera’



Miguel Zenón – Sonero: The Music of Ismael Rivera
To be released on August 30th, 2019 on Miel Music

“He wasn’t just one of the guys. For me, he was beyond that” said Miguel Zenón about Ismael (“Maelo”) Rivera (1931-1987), the subject of his latest project, Sonero. “He exemplified the highest level of artistry. He was like Bird, Mozart, Einstein, Ali – he was that guy.”

Zenón knows something about musical greatness. He’s one of jazz’s most original thinkers, known for his harmonic complexity, and for being one of the most recognizable alto saxophonists of his generation. His great subject is his homeland of Puerto Rico, and he brings a fresh take on it every time out, combining reverence for cultural tradition with strong compositional chops. No one else’s Puerto Rico – and no one else’s jazz – sounds like Miguel Zenón’s.

Sonero: The Music of Ismael Rivera might be Miguel Zenón’s strongest album yet, and that’s saying a lot. For his twelfth album as a leader, Zenón and his quartet offer a tribute to a musician who influenced him from childhood: Ismael Rivera, who grew up in Santurce, not far from Zenón’s home turf. Familiarly known as Maelo, he’s a popular hero in Puerto Rico today, even more than 30 years after his death. “When people talk about him, they talk about him as you would about a legendary figure,” says Zenón. On the other side of the Caribbean, in Colombia, Venezuela, Panamá, he’s as popular as he is in Puerto Rico. But in the wider world, he’s not as well known. “One of my main goals here,” Zenón says, “is that I want everyone to know about him.”

Ismael Rivera’s musical background was in folkloric Afro-Rican music. He grew up together with future bandleader Rafael Cortijo and became the lead vocalist of Cortijo y Su Combo, with whom he became a household name appearing regularly on the Puerto Rican daily TV El Show del Mediodía in the 1950s. Tutored in the repertoires of bomba and plena by the patriarch Don Rafael Cepeda, the two men stand at the head of a movement that turned those rhythms into contemporary dance-band music, which at the time was mostly in the Cuban style.

Rivera had a distinctly Puerto Rican style of soneo or improvisation. The word comes from son, the Cuban style of music that is the mother form of salsa. The album’s title, Sonero, means the lead singer who improvises melodies and lyrics over the repeating coro. It’s one of the highest forms of artistic performance, calling on the performer to display musical and textual erudition while making people dance. Rivera was known to his fans as El Sonero Mayor – the greatest sonero.

But, says Zenón, “Sonero to me doesn’t only mean an improviser. It exemplifies a persona. It’s someone who embodies the genre.

“I grew up in salsa circles as a kid,” he continued, “and when folks talked about all the great singers – Héctor Lavoe and Cheo Feliciano, Marvin Santiago, Chamaco Ramírez, people like that – they always talked about Maelo in a different way. Rubén Blades talks about Maelo as a revolutionary rhythmic genius.” Coming from a percussion background, Rivera developed a unique style of singing that used vocal percussion phrases – ¡rucutúc, rucutúc, rucutúc, rucutác! — to fill out lyrical lines, making for a new level of rhythmic complexity on the part of the singer.

“Putting phrases on top of phrases, like threes over fours, stuff that’s so advanced that as a musician you can say, ‘okay, that’s five, then the four, then it crosses over and meets here’ – but I’m sure he wasn’t thinking about that,” Zenón says. “He was just thinking about the way he felt it. But what he felt was so advanced and so ahead of his time that it was really transcendent. So a lot of the elements that I used to write these charts were things that were inspired by what he was doing rhythmically when he improvised.”

“I’m attracted to complexity, but in this case, it’s complexity on top of a foundation of folklore and just plain grit. It was all there,” he continues. “His timbre, his voice, the way he dealt with lyrics as an improviser and on top of that his rhythmic genius.”

Zenón’s albums are conceived as integral works to an extraordinary degree. He’s been bringing out new full-length projects year after year, and his hyper-virtuosic quartet does hard roadwork playing around the world. On Sonero, the group captures the spirit of Maelo – but through its own distinctive lens. The album has the easily identifiable sound of the fully developed Miguel Zenón Quartet, which has remained with the same membership for fifteen years – an astounding stability in the world of jazz. They play personalized jazz – their own unique style, collectively created under Zenón’s direction, built on the foundation of their easy musical communication.

The group’s unity was on display when they premiered the music from Sonero in a stunning residency at the Village Vanguard in March 2019. “Luis and Hans and Henry – we all have a specific connection to this music,” Zenón said. “There’s a connection to it that goes beyond the page. It’s a personal thing. Like Luis for example, he’s a salsa head even more than I am. He grew up with this music. When we play the arrangements I’m sure he feels what I feel. He hears those songs and he knows where the source is coming from.”

While the Maelo pieces included in Sonero are Zenón’s arrangements of other composers’ tunes, they’re so fully elaborated into large-scale works that they feel like his compositions. Listeners may recall his arrangement of Maelo’s signature Bobby-Capó-composed soliloquy “Incomprendido” that lit up the quartet’s groundbreaking Alma Adentro: The Puerto Rican Songbook (2011), an album which correctly treated standards by Puerto Rico’s greatest popular composers as part of the jazz repertoire. Sonero brings a similar approach, featuring versions of tunes by some of the same canonical composers from the repertoire of Ismael Rivera.

Some of the selections on Sonero are key tunes from Rivera’s repertoire: “Quítate de la Vía, Perico,” Rivera’s early hit with Cortijo, begins with an accelerating train rhythm; the upbeat feel of Bobby Capó’s “El Negro Bembón,” belies its lyric about the tragedy of a Black man murdered for having big lips; Catalino “Tite” Curet Alonso’s Black-is-beautiful anthem “Las Caras Lindas,” – one of Maelo’s signature tunes, covered by many artists; and “El Nazareno,” about his religious experience in the procession of the Black Christ in Portobelo, Panamá, where he was a regular pilgrim.

Others are less obvious choices – “Las Tumbas” (The Tombs), for example, with its lyrics about Rivera’s experience in prison; “Colobó,” about the pleasures of living in Loiza Aldea, Puerto Rico’s legendary Black town outside of San Juan where bomba thrives today; and “La Gata Montesa,” a bittersweet bolero-chá about a woman who’s a mountain lion and a “vampiress.”

When Miguel Zenón’s quartet gets to stretching the numbers out live, Sonero is a full evening of entertainment. Unheard but not unacknowledged, the lyrics float in the heads of the musicians as they channel the spirit of Ismael Rivera into their own instrumental masterwork.

Personnel: Miguel Zenón, alto-sax; Luis Perdomo, piano; Hans Glawischnig, bass; Henry Cole, drums.

About Miguel Zenón: A multiple Grammy® nominee and Guggenheim and MacArthur Fellow, Zenón is one of a select group of musicians who have masterfully balanced and blended the often contradictory poles of innovation and tradition. Widely considered one of the most groundbreaking and influential saxophonists of his generation, Zenón has also developed a unique voice as a composer and as a conceptualist, concentrating his efforts on perfecting a fine mix between Latin American folkloric music and jazz. Born and raised in San Juan, Puerto Rico, Zenón has recorded and toured with a wide variety of musicians including Charlie Haden, Fred Hersch, Kenny Werner, Bobby Hutcherson, and Steve Coleman and is a founding member of the SFJAZZ Collective.

Source: Braithwaite and Katz Communications

Latin Jazz Network is a project dedicated to the advancement of Latin jazz and its creators. Since 2000 LJN has been spreading the word about this wonderful music known under the umbrella term: LATIN JAZZ.

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New Releases

Bobby Sanabria MULTIVERSE Big Band to release new recording: “Vox Humana”



Drummer, percussionist, composer, arranger, bandleader, educator, Bobby Sanabria
Drummer, percussionist, composer, arranger, bandleader, educator, Bobby Sanabria

Celebrating 25 years! The multi-Grammy nominated Bobby Sanabria MULTIVERSE Big Band is set to release their new recording: “Vox Humana” featuring vocalists Janis Siegel, Antoinette Montague, Jennifer Jade Ledesna.

Recorded Live at Dizzy’s Club Cola in NYC
Release Date: Spring 2023
Record Label: Jazzheads

New York – January 18th – On the heels of their Grammy nominated and 2019 Jazz Journalists Association Album of the Year Award winning critically acclaimed masterwork, West Side Story Reimagined, and in celebration of their 25th anniversary – drummer, percussionist, composer, arranger, bandleader, educator, Bobby Sanabria and his Multiverse Big Band return with their most ambitious work to date, VOX HUMANA.

Bobby states, “Over the course of our many Grammy nominated albums we’ve occasionally featured tracks with vocals. But I’ve always envisioned doing an entire vocal album framed by the Multiverse Big Band. Now with three of today’s greatest contemporary singing talents – multi-Grammy award winner Janis Siegel from the Manhattan Transfer, blues and jazz Queen Antoinette Montague, and the multilingual powerhouse, Jennifer Jade Ledesna, today that vision has finally become a reality.

The individually distinct voices that Janis, Antoinette, and Jennifer possess make them each unique. But the X factor they all have is they are all masterful improvisors in the best sense of the jazz tradition. Added to the mix is our great conguero, Oreste Abrantes, who also sings lead on two tracks. Having that multi- dimensional vocal talent framed by the power, nuance, and tonal variety that only a big band can provide, combined with the repertoire I’ve chosen to showcase them and the band and the incredible variety of Afro- Latin, straight ahead swing, funk, R&B, and rock rhythmic vocabulary that we are masters of and readily have at our disposal in the Multiverse, I believe VOX HUMANA will prove to be our greatest achievement. 

Bobby Sanabria MULTIVERSE Big Band: "Vox Humana"
Bobby Sanabria MULTIVERSE Big Band: “Vox Humana”

That repertoire has a personal meaning to me as I see VOX HUMANA as a biographical work. I’m a product of my environment. I’m a Nuyorican, a person of Puerto Rican descent growing up in New York City. In my case the South Bronx during a time period when pop, jazz, R&B, rock, funk, and Latin music of all kinds all co-existed as equals. It was the last era when the big bands of masters like Duke Ellington, Count Basie, Buddy Rich, Machito, Tito Puente, Tito Rodriguez, Don Ellis, and more were in the public eye, and they became my heroes. Vocalists who could deliver a message with subtlety, nuance, and when needed, power, were called upon to deliver poetry crafted by genius song writers. You’ll hear all that and more through the soaring vocals and improv talents of Janis, Antoinette, and Jennifer, along with Oreste, as well as the incredible jazz-oriented arrangements and exciting Pan Afro-Latin rhythms played by a big band that literally takes no prisoners when it hits the stage.”

The repertoire Bobby speaks of includes 1 original and 12 unique re-workings of pop hits like Spooky, Christine Aguilera’s Genie In a Bottle, and Steely Dan’s Do It Again; NEA Jazz Master Eddie Palmieri’s, Mi Congo and Puerto Rico along with the island’s greatest composer, Rafael Hernandez’s, Capullito De Aleli; the classic Joe Cuba R&B bolero, To Be With You; Brazilian standards Partido Alto and Amazonas; and from the world of Broadway theater, I Love You Porgy, and the iconic jump blues, Let The Good Times Roll. The CD also includes an original message bearing piece, Who Taught You That, as well as what may possibly be the most exciting interpretation of the Ellington associated classic, Caravan, and that has ever been recorded. 

Adding to the excitement of the performance, VOX HUMANA was recorded in front of a live audience. Bobby states, “As with our previous work, we recorded VOX HUMANA live at NYC’s Dizzy’s Club Coca – Cola. My musicians represent NYC’s finest. That means they’re the greatest in the world. The added level of excitement created by the audience inspired us in the MULTIVERSE Big Band to a heightened new level of performance virtuosity that listeners will hear explode out of the speakers just as the audience at Dizzy’s experienced in person.”

The history of the Bobby Sanabria MULTIVERSE Big Band is indeed one based on his rich multi-cultural heritage as a Nuyorican growing up in New York City’s South Bronx. His concept of having a big band that has no genre boundaries with limitless possibilities was forged 25 years ago back in 1998. It has yielded a series of groundbreaking, critically acclaimed albums that have all been Grammy-nominated with the band thrilling audiences worldwide at venues like the Kennedy Center, Lincoln Center, The Ravinia Festival, Verona Jazz Festival in Europe, and more.

Content Source: Two for the Show Media

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