Saturday, November 01, 2008

StLJN Saturday Video Showcase:
Three from Miguel Zenón

This week, we take at look at some video clips featuring alto saxophonist Miguel Zenón, who's one of the fastest-rising young jazz stars to emerge this decade. Zenón will be in St. Louis next week to perform Wednesday, November 5 through Saturday, November 8 at Jazz at the Bistro, and to help those who haven't heard him get acquainted, today we've got excerpts from three performances that reveal different aspects of his musical personality.

Originally from San Juan, Puerto Rico, Zenón is a graduate of both Berklee College of Music and the Manhattan School of Music. His credits include performances and/or recordings with artists including David Sanchez, Charlie Haden, The Village Vanguard Orchestra, Bobby Hutcherson, Bob Moses, The Either Orchestra, Guillermo Klein, the Mingus Big Band, Jerry Gonzalez & The Fort Apache Band, Ray Barretto and Steve Coleman. St. Louis listeners also may remember Zenon from his appearance here in 2006 at the Bistro with the SF Jazz Collective, which he helped found.

Zenon has put out four recordings as a leader, with the most recent, Awake, released earlier this year. He has received many awards, this year including fellowships from both the John Simon Guggenheim Foundation and the MacArthur Foundation (sometimes called the “Genius Grant”). That kind of recognition tends to raise expectations to daunting levels, but those who have heard Zenón can attest that he's definitely got the goods to be a significant force in creative music for many years to come.

The embedded video windows up top feature Zenón at the Nuyorican Cafe in NYC, offering a rather quirky deconstruction of the familiar Latin standard "Oye Como Va" with some help from Aldemar Valetin on bass, Tony Escapa on drums and Reynaldo de Jesus on congas. Those listeners who are expecting something akin to the famous versions by Tito Puente and/or Carlos Santana may be taken aback, but hearing a musician offer a fresh take on a well-known tune can provide useful insights into the way their mind works, and I think that's the case here.

Down below, Zenón displays a more romantic side and a lusher sound in a performance of a Latin ballad titled "Qué Te Pedí" recorded at Zinco Jazz Club in México City. The final embedded video showcases a Zenón solo on the tune "Birdlike," recorded in June 2006 at Smalls with Bruce Barth on piano, Doug Weiss on bass and Jason Marsalis on drums. Though the video is dark, it's worth checking out to hear Zenón show off some blazing bop chops.

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