Sonero: The Music of Ismael Rivera

Sonero: The Music of Ismael Rivera

Leading one of the longest-lived and most explosive quartets in jazz today, alto saxophonist and MacArthur Fellow Miguel Zenón has devoted much attention to Puerto Rico’s musical heritage and its meaning for him as a jazz composer. Whether writing original music or reconceiving traditional and popular Puerto Rican idioms like jíbaro and plena, Zenón and the band go at it with passion and spellbinding precision. Pianist Luis Perdomo, bassist Hans Glawischnig, and drummer Henry Cole join Zenón this time for a deep consideration of Ismael Rivera (1931-1987), the eminent salsa singer known affectionately as “Maelo.” We hear him in a sample on the opening track, spliced with the quartet as it orchestrates and reharmonizes what he is singing. And with the stage set so movingly, the group proceeds with epic instrumental reimaginings of “Las Tumbas,” “Las Caras Lindas,” “El Negro Bembón,” and more, steeped in jazz harmony and complex, surging rhythm, with the original melodies and figures used as jumping-off points for development and exposition. Salsa’s sonero (vocal improvisation) tradition dovetails with the grooving modern chamber-jazz aesthetic of Zenón and his compatriots to create music beyond category.

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