Miguel Zenón, one of the jazz scene’s leading alto players and bandleaders, has had pianist Luis Perdomo in his award-winning quartet for many years. When the two walked into The Jazz Gallery, right near New York’s historic Tin Pan Alley, to play a livestream duo concert in September 2020, they knew they’d record it. But they didn’t expect to release it. Then they heard it back: The playing was so suffused with unabashed love for this bolero repertoire, a staple of their respective youths in Puerto Rico and Venezuela, that they thought it needed to be shared.
The songs were made famous long ago by Benny Moré (“Cómo Fue”), Sylvia Rexach (“Alma Adentro”), Ray Barretto (“Ese Hastío”), Arsenio Rodríguez (“La Vida Es Un Sueño”), La Lupe (“Que Te Pedí”), and Cheo Feliciano (“Juguete”). What’s striking is how seamlessly they lend themselves to an intimate jazz ballad approach, and how effectively the duo bridges these compatible traditions. Zenón reveals traces of the great Ellington altoist Johnny Hodges here and there, and by the end, on “Juguete,” the duo opens the improvisational floodgates: Perdomo quotes “Star Eyes” and Zenón answers later with a phrase from Thelonious Monk’s “In Walked Bud.”