There may be many alto saxophonists born into the musical topography of Afro-Caribbean music, all of whom boast singular voices, but none with voices as distinctive as Miguel Zenón, [Yosvany Terry and César López]. Each of them are capable of such preternatural power that in a single powerfully eloquent phrase they are capable of completely occupying – and holding – the mind of the listener enthralled for as long as they please.
Miguel Zenón does exactly that through his glimmering artistry on Música De Las Américas. Moreover even after his bewitching melodies and cascading harmonics – played with laser-focus and incessant stabbing rhythmic grooves – have faded away the impression that this music leaves behind echoes ad infinitum. There are few musicians of this generation who have kept Puerto Rican musical traditions so vividly alive than Mr Zenón.
One only has to cast a cursory glance over his oeuvre from the iconic trilogy Jíbaro, Esta Plena and Alma Adentro, and the masterful Sonero [The Music of Ismael Rivera] to be seized of how he has almost single-handedly turned on the arc-lights on to reveal – once again – the magical music that has simmered above and below the surface of the bronzed Puerto Rican musical skin. With his 2022 release Música De Las Américas , Mr Zenón seems to have found a way to lift his art to an altogether new level.
Digging deep into the historic ethos of the region Mr Zenón has found new ways to celebrate the proud heritage of the people who lived on the Caribbean islands for scores of generations before they were first colonised in the 15th century. This is, however, no dry academic history lesson of Afro-Caribbean musical traditions despite the title of the album making specific reference to that aspect of the recording.
The enduring liveliness of the musical traditions of the pre-colonial life in The Americas are presented in eight heraldic tone poems that sparkle from beginning to end with their idiomatically written and solidly structured performances by the musicians of Mr Zenón’s regular quartet – pianist Luis Perdomo, bassist Hans Glawischnig and drummer Henry Cole, together with a super-constellation of special guests. The effervescent nature of Indigenous life – the celebration of human existence – is superbly turned to song by Mr Zenón.
Song – specifically the making of truly songful music – is something that few artists excel at like Mr Zenón. This is not restricted to his compositions alone – although even if he didn’t play a note they would still remain utterly unique – but Mr Zenón extends this songful-ness to his virtuoso performance of his chosen instrument. Here too he has carved a niche all his own with his soaring, aria-like vocal of playing. This is why he can pour into music equal measures of grief and sadness as well as unfettered joyfulness.
All of this is put to magnificent use to tell the history of a group of people before colonisation sullied the purity of life. Mr Zenón distributes the material ingeniously between instruments [with a nod to alto-piano carrying the melodic-harmonic heft of the music, with bass-drums-percussion creating the rhythmic edifice from which the living music reverberates. The narrative is woven right from the rippling vibe of “Taínos Y Caribes” and reverberates with the sadness and fury of “Opresión Y Revolución” through the unfettered joyfulness of “América, El Continente” and the uplifting denoument of the recording “Antillano”.
This repertoire tumbles and echoes across the spontaneous-sounding soundscape that the composer calls Música De Las Américas. Musicians delight in their roles as purveyors of musical truth as they palpably relish their [musical] cavorting and pirouetting from start to finish. Música De Las Américas is yet another master-class in the art of music-making by the peerless Miguel Zenón.
Tracks – 1: Taínos Y Caribes; 2: Navegando [Las Estrellas Nos Guían]; 3: Opresión Y Revolución; 4: Imperios; 5: Venas Abiertas; 6: Bámbula; 7: América, El Continente; 8: Antillano
Musicians – Miguel Zenón Quartet – Miguel Zenón: alto saxophone; Luis Perdomo: piano; Hans Glawischnig: bass; Henry Cole: drums and featuring – Los Pleneros de La Cresta – Emil Martinez, Edwin “Wechin” Avilés, Joshuan Ocasio, Joseph Ocasio and Jeyluix Ocasio: panderos, percussion and vocals ; Paoli Mejías: percussion on ; Víctor Emmanuelli: barril de bomba ; Daniel Díaz: congas 
Released – 2022
Label – Miel Music
Runtime – 1:05:27