Saxophonist Miguel Zenón is one of the most prolific musicians of his generation having received such accolades as multiple Grammy nominations and both the Guggenheim and the MacArthur fellowships, in addition to releasing ten albums as a leader and being a founding member of the SFJAZZ Collective. On September 21st, Zenón returns with his eleventh studio recording, Yo Soy la Tradición, an ambitious concert-length work for string quartet and saxophone, drawing on the cultural and folkloric traditions of Zenón’s native Puerto Rico, expressed through the modernist lens of his compositions.
Joining Zenón on the album is the Chicago-based internationally renowned Spektral Quartet comprised of Clara Lyon and Maeve Feinberg on violin, Doyle Armbrust on viola and Russell Rolen on cello, who have been described by Gramophone as “highly-interactive, creative and collaborative…unlike anything its intended audience, or anyone else, has ever heard.”
Commissioned by the David and Reva Logan Center for the Arts and the Hyde Park Jazz Festival, Zenón set out to compose a series of chamber pieces taking both creative inspiration and formal patterning from his native Puerto Rico’s cultural, religious, and musical traditions. “My goal is to identify the elements that make each tradition unique,” says Zenón. “If these elements are musical in nature, I’ll extract them and use them as the main seed for a new piece of music, not trying to emulate the original, but using the original source as inspiration.”
Although he has previously written music for string quartet on Awake, his fourth album released a decade ago, Yo Soy la Tradición required extensive preparation. “I studied many chamber works from various periods,” Zenón says, noting the collaborative aspect of working with Spektral as part of his compositional process. “As I was writing and revising, I was also able to integrate feedback from the members of the quartet, whom I would send sections and passages to.”
The first single from the album, a song entitled “Milagrosa”, is inspired by the religious practice of La Promesa, making a promise to a Catholic deity in return for a favor; specifically, the title refers to a promise made to La Virgen de La Milagrosa (“The Miraculous Virgin”), a traditional song completely reimagined and reworked by Zenón into a modern and vibrant piece full of the subtleties and intricacies proper to the composer.
Watch the video for “Milagrosa”, featuring Zenón and the Spektral Quartet, below and be marvelled by the composition’s challenging and strenuous lines beautifully executed in large part due to the exceptional musicianship of the quintet. “Milagrosa” is a marvellous example of a complex composition where ideas flow gracefully from one to the other and where listeners are briefly transported into a new world full of excitement and intellectual stimulation. See for yourself!
Miguel Zenón and the Spektral Quartet’s new album Yo Soy la Tradición is set for release September 21st on Miel Music.
Miguel Zenón and Spektral Quartet Upcoming Performances
Friday, September 21 – Segundo Ruiz Belvis Cultural Center, Chicago, IL (Benefit concert for hurricane relief)
Saturday, September 22 – Ripon College, Ripon, WI
Wednesday, November 14 – UMASS Amherst, Amherst, MA
Thursday, November 15 – Villa Victoria Cultural Center, Boston, MA
Friday, November 16 – Kennedy Center Jazz Club, Washington, DC