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Concert Reviews

Miguel Zenon – Rayuela Concert Review

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“With Rayuela, Zenón once again demonstrated why he is considered one of the best jazz musicians and one of the most creative minds in music today.”

Review and Photographs by Wilbert Sostre

With the original group that recorded his most recent album Rayuela, Puerto Rican altoist virtuoso Miguel Zenón took the stage of the Inter American University of Puerto Rico. The music from the album Rayuela is completely different from Zenón previous projects. On Rayuela, instead of fusing Jazz with Puerto Rican music like he did on the critically acclaimed albums, Jíbaro, Esta Plena and Alma Adentro: The Puerto Rican Songbook, this time Zenón decided to compose music based on one of the best books in Latin American literature: “Rayuela,” by Julio Cortázar.

Miguel ZenonZenón composed half of the compositions, the French scenes from the book, and pianist Laurent Coq composed the other half, the Argentina scenes. These are compositions with an eclectic blend of textures, sounds, dense harmonics, provocative and richly inventive melodies, and technically challenging structures with an almost cinematic feel.

The concert started with a composition by Laurent Coq, the waltz like “Talita,” followed by Zenón’s classical sounds of “La Muerte de Rocamadour” highlighted by Dana Leong’s cello. A sublime piano intro led the way to the exotic sounds of Coq’s “Gekrepten”, followed by Zenón’s composition “Moreliana” based on chapter 151 of “Rayuela” (the book). After a short recess, the group came back to the stage to play Coq’s “Traveler” and “Buenos Aires”. Dana Leong masterfully played the trombone on these two pieces. The quartet almost ended the night with Zenón’s piece “El Club de la Serpiente”. After a standing and well deserved ovation the quartet closed the show with Zenón’s cinematic composition “La Maga”.

Besides the alto sax of Miguel Zenón and the piano of Laurent Coq, the instrumentation is not typical for a jazz quartet. Trombonist Dana Leong also plays the cello and drummer Dan Weiss also plays the hindu tabla. These instruments give the music an exotic and classically tinged sound.

Even though the music feels very structured, there is plenty of space for each one of these amazing musicians to display their virtuosic and ingenious improvisations.

With Rayuela, Zenón once again demonstrated why he is considered one of the best jazz musicians and one of the most creative minds in music today.

Member of the Jazz Journalist Association since 2010. Member of the Ponce International Jazz Festival Commitee. Studied music and guitar, 1985-86. Music studies at the University of Puerto Rico and the Music Conservatory of Puerto Rico, 1986-1990.

Concert Reviews

Hilario Durán and David Virelles at Koerner Hall in Toronto

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On Thursday, October 13, 2022, representing two generations of Cuban Piano Masters, Hilario Durán and David Virelles got together at Koerner Hall, one of the most magnificent concert venues in Toronto. They were celebrating the release (in Canada) of their new recording Front Street Duets (Alma Records), a project they started working on at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020.

Hilario Durán and David Virelles at Koerner Hall in Toronto
Hilario Durán and David Virelles at Koerner Hall in Toronto

Both artists were extremely happy of releasing their duet album after these past two years of the unimaginable worldwide health crisis. They were also excited to be in Toronto, and for being able to accommodate their busy schedules to perform their music in front of a very enthusiastic audience. Durán and Virelles expressed their utmost respect and admiration for each other. David from an early age considered Hilario as one of his musical heroes, a musical giant and influential figure in Cuba, in Canada and abroad. Hilario considers David as one of the most important Cuban pianist of his generation, a big star shining globally, from the highly competitive musical scene in New York.

Hilario Durán and David Virelles at Koerner Hall in Toronto

The concert got started started with Epistrophy, the first tune copyrighted by Thelonious Monk, followed by Sophisticated Lady / In A Sentimental Mood, two compositions by Duke Ellington. Next, Durán and Virelles performed four tunes from their new album: 1. Danza Lucumí, (beautifully arranged by Virelles), a song written by Alejandro García Caturla, a Cuban composer who together with Amadeo Roldán, are considered the leaders of Afro-cubanismo, a nationalist musical trend that incorporates Afro-Cuban songs, rhythms, and dances. 2. Challenge, a new composition by Durán. 3. La Malanga (also arranged by Virelles), a composition by Calixto Varona, one of the most important composers from Santiago de Cuba from the XIX century. 4. Guajira For Two Pianos, the first track on the album Front Street Duet, a fiery composition written by Durán.

Hilario Durán and David Virelles at Koerner Hall in Toronto

The first set came to an end with Airegin (an anadrome of Nigeria), a jazz standard composed by American saxophonist Sonny Rollins in 1954.

The second part of the concert started with a solo performance by David Virelles, Canción Estudio, composed by José Antonio “Ñico” Rojas, a prominent Cuban composer and guitarist, considered as one of the founders of the style of Cuban song called filin. Then it was Durán’s turn for an inspired solo performance of Autumn Nocturne (a notable composition written by Russian-born Josef Myrow with Kim Gannon). Durán had previously recorded this tune on his 1999 Justin Time Records release Habana Nocturna, a superb album that feature acclaimed saxophonist, flautist and bandleader Jane Bunnett, and drummer extraordinaire Horacio “El Negro” Hernández.

Hilario Durán and David Virelles at Koerner Hall in Toronto

Next, both pianists performed a set of four pieces written by Hilario Durán for the recording Front Street Duets. 1. David’s Tumbao, a composition dedicated to David Virelles. Durán is well known for his fiery tumbao style when he’s playing. 2. Punto Cubano #1, inspired on the genre of Cuban music known as punto guajiro or punto cubano, a poetic art with music that became popular in the western and central regions of Cuba in the 17th century and consolidated as a genre in the 18th century. 3. Santos Suárez’s Memories pays tribute to the Havana neighbourhood where Durán grew up, where he fell in love with the piano and became a musician. It brings back cherished memories involving his upbringing, his family and close friends. 4. Milonga For Cuba, a very special tribute dedicated to the people who protested in Havana last summer 2021.

Hilario Durán and David Virelles at Koerner Hall in Toronto

For the encore, Durán and Virelles interpreted a wonderful rendition of Body And Soul, a popular song and jazz standard written in 1930 with music by Johnny Green and lyrics by Edward Heyman, Robert Sour and Frank Eyton. Body and Soul is the track that closes the album Front Street Duets, and also brought to an end a tremendous musical night at Koerner Hall in Toronto.

Photographs by Danilo Navas

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