Nov 4, 2014
Miguel Zenón has become one of jazz's most original thinkers. At the age of 37, he's one of the best-known alto saxophonists in jazz, a winner of a Guggenheim fellowship, and one of only a handful of jazz musicians to be chosen for the coveted MacArthur “genius” fellowships (in 2008), In many ways, he is at the forefront of a new movement that in recent years has brought the composer to a new prominence in jazz.
Beyond his facility at writing and playing music, there is a great intellectual subject at the center of Miguel Zenón's artistic world: the complexity of Puerto Rican culture. He has touched on the musical history of his native land on past albums, most recently Oye!!! Live In Puerto Rico. His latest release, Identities Are Changeable, moves beyond presentations of the folkloric or historical musical genres with a sweeping song cycle for large ensemble, held together with the spoken word. Miguel interviewed friends, relatives and even members of his band on the nature of Puerto Rican-American identity, particularly New York Puerto Rican-American identity. These recordings form the soul of the new CD, as a large ensemble plays new music written for the project, led by his longtime quartet (Luis Perdomo, piano; Hans Glawischnig, bass; Henry Cole, drums).
Commissioned as a multi-media work by Montclair State University's Peak Performances series, it has a multi-media element with audio and video footage from the interviews, complemented by a video installation created by artist David Dempewolf. It's been performed at such prestigious venues as the New England Conservatory's Jordan Hall in Boston, The SFJAZZ Center in San Francisco, and Zankel Hall in the Carnegie Hall complex in New York City.
Miguel is on the road with the quartet now, stopping for occasional gigs with the SFJAZZ Collective. I spoke with Miguel as he prepped for a gig in San Francisco, and we discussed the genesis of Identities Are Changeable, how he keeps his band together, his recent recordings with Bobby Avery, and the joys of the SFJAZZ Collective. Podcast 453 is our conversation, including musical selections from the new CD, his CD Esta Plena, and ”26-2” from the SFJAZZ Collective CD celebrating the music of John Coltrane.