Internationally acclaimed saxophonist and composer Miguel Zenón performs thirteen dates in eleven European cities from July 3 – July 17, 2015. Joined by his quartet featuring drummer Henry Cole, pianist Luis Perdomo and bassist Hans Glawischnig, Zenón performs music from his groundbreaking recording Identities are Changeable, a project focusing on the cultural identity of the Puerto Rican community in NYC. They appear:
Friday, July 3: Funchal Jazz Festival, Madeira, Portugal
Saturday, July 4 – Sunday, July 5: Hot Club, Lisbon, Portugal
Monday, July 6: Copenhagen Jazz Festival, Copenhagen, Denmark
Wednesday, July 8: Unterfahrt, Munich, Germany
Thursday, July 9: Sunside, Paris, France
Friday, July 10: Ezcaray Jazz Festival, Ezcaray, Spain
Saturday, July 11 – Sunday, July 12: Bogui Jazz, Madrid, Spain
Tuesday, July 14: Umbria Jazz Festival, Umbria, Italy
Wednesday, July 15: Jimmy Glass, Valencia, Spain
Thursday, July 16: Festival des Hauts de Garonnes, Bordeaux, France
Friday, July 17: Pori Jazz Festival, Pori, Finland
Multiple Grammy® nominee and Guggenheim and MacArthur Fellow Zenón is one of a select group of musicians who have masterfully balanced and blended the often-contradictory poles of innovation and tradition. Widely considered one of the most groundbreaking and influential saxophonists of his generation, he has also developed a unique voice as a composer and as a conceptualist, concentrating his efforts on perfecting a fine mix between Latin American folkloric music and jazz. Born and raised in San Juan, Puerto Rico, Zenón has recorded and toured with a wide variety of musicians including Charlie Haden, Fred Hersch, Kenny Werner, Bobby Hutcherson and Steve Coleman and is a founding member of the SFJAZZ Collective.
He has earned wide critical acclaim for Identities are Changeable. For this project the alto saxophonist and composer asked his friends the question he had been asking himself:
What does it mean to be Puerto Rican in 21st-century New York City?
That was the point of departure for Identities Are Changeable, the startlingly original album by Zenón, who grew up in the island’s main city of San Juan and came to New York in 1998 to pursue a career in music.
Zenón’s experience of moving via the air bridge from the small Antillean island to the landing strip 1600 miles north is something he shares with hundreds of thousands of other “Puerto Rican-New Yorkers.” Puerto Ricans are not immigrants in the United States: for nearly a century – since 1917 – Puerto Ricans have, unlike other natives of Latin America, been US citizens, able to come and go as they please between the island of Puerto Rico and the mainland. When they come north, overwhelmingly they go to New York City. After different waves of migration over the decades – most numerously in the 1950s – about 1.2 million “Puerto Rican-Americans” were living in the greater New York area as of 2012.
Zenón did his own fieldwork for the project, interviewing New Yorkers of Puerto Rican descent, focusing on their experience as second-generation Puerto Ricans. The conversations centered on a single question: what makes a Puerto Rican a Puerto Rican. As Zenón notes: “There is, of course, no correct answer, but the many answers and impressions that came from these conversations eventually served as the main source of inspiration for the music on this piece. Video images and audio clips from these interviews interact with the music and make a case for the fact that national identity can be multiple and changeable—that in many cases our nationality can be within us, no matter where we’re from or the language we speak.”
Zenón has expanded his musical and theatrical boundaries with this ambitious big band project built around his longtime quartet and accompanying video. Identities Are Changeable is a thrilling counterpoint of music, language, and images. Cross-cutting between Puerto Rico and New York, it’s all about living contrapuntally, exploring the split focus of Puerto Rican cultural identity, by unpacking foundational forces such as family, language, ritual, neighborhood, and memory. Zenón investigates this dichotomy in composition and arrangements, coupled with his sensuous and soulful mastery of the saxophone. In Identities Are Changeable, he scales new heights as cultural guide.
The resultant work is a song cycle for large ensemble, with his longtime quartet (Luis Perdomo, piano; Hans Glawischnig, bass; Henry Cole, drums) at the center, incorporating recorded voices from a series of interviews conducted by Zenón. 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.
Zenón explains: “all of the compositions explore the idea of multiple rhythmic structures coexisting with each other (e.g., 5 against 7, 3 against 2, 5 against 3).” Drummer Henry Cole has his hands (and feet) full holding down the simultaneous time streams, as does Zenón when he conducts the group live. The players are a selected elite team – hear John Ellis’s tenor solo on “Same Fight,” or Tim Albright’s trombone feature on “First Language.” There’s no way to convey in words the impact of the orchestral effects, but reviewing the Zankel Hall performance for The New York Times, Ben Ratliff writes:
“[The] sound and language didn’t directly suggest traditional Puerto Rican music or traditional jazz. Its rhythm was phrased almost completely in stacked or odd meter, with parts of the band shifting into double or half time, and Mr. Zenón’s saxophone darting around the chord changes or resting on top, in long tones.
There was drama and momentum in the music’s developing harmonic movement; at times a shift to a new chord felt like an event. All the music was deeply hybridized and original, complex but clear.”
It’s all at the service of Zenón’s relentless curiosity, as he writes in the album’s liner notes:
When I first came into contact with Puerto Rican communities in this country, I was shocked to meet second and third generation Puerto Ricans who were as connected to the traditions of their parents/grandparents and as proud to be Puerto Rican as the people I knew back home. Where was this sense of pride coming from? What did they consider their first language? Their home? What did it mean to them to be Puerto Rican? What are the elements that help us shape our national identity?
If the music doesn’t directly answer these questions, it provides a way into thinking about them. Like Zenón’s other music, it’s about an entire society, but it’s deeply personal.
Identities are Changeable was released November 4, 2014 on Zenon’s Miel Music.