As he prepared for the world premiere of his Golden City Suite commissioned by Hewlett 50, Miguel Zenon listened to the voices that inspired his kaleidoscopic composition.
One of the founders of the SFJAZZ collective, an alto saxophonist, during his 15 years in the octet, became a real star, a Guggenheim and MacArthur fellow who studied music of Puerto Rican roots and a Latin American songbook as sources for an in-depth study of jazz. .
Zenon, who also brought his duo to San Jose’s Hammer Theater Center on April 28, accepted the “Golden City Suite” assignment by delving into California history, “starting from the very beginning with indigenous communities,” he said. “All back to when it was Mexico, the gold rush and the waves of Asian migration.”
Zenon presents “Golden City Suite”, which will be held May 5-6 at SFJAZZ, more than a musical presentation. He works with the set designer of Opera Parallèle to create the visual environment for the evening performance, which consists of 10 interrelated yet independent movements. Although the suite is an instrumental work, it is based on extensive research and interviews.
“I spoke to about 50 people and got a lot more input into the creative process,” Zenon, 45, said, noting that the suite was originally scheduled to premiere in spring 2020. “I wrote everything. early and I listened to the interview again to get the project in my head. I’m very happy to be able to play it.”
Written for an unusual nine-piece New York City ensemble, “Golden City Suite” features a four-piece rhythm section and four horns revolving around Miles Okazaki’s electric guitar. In fact, the instrumentation is much wider, as Buenos Aires native Diego Urcola plays trumpet and valve trombone, and San Francisco-raised Jacob Garczyk has just completed an impressive stint at the SFJAZZ Center as Artist-in-Residence at Kronos Festival 2022, playing on trombone and euphonium.
The trombo-oriented line-up reflects Zeno’s formative experience, absorbing the sounds of Latin music innovators such as Willy Colon, Los Van Van and Ruben Blades. While the saxophone eclipsed the French horn in jazz with the advent of bebop in the 1940s, the trombone still occupies a central place in many Caribbean and Latin American idioms.
“There are also many examples of trombone quartets in gospel music,” he said. “There’s something about the darker horn tone of this configuration that I really like, something that’s sharp and dark, not brassy like the screams of the trumpets. But in fact, we are talking about these musicians. I love all these guys and the way they play.”
Moraga-raised trombonist Alan Ferber rounds out the horn section. He toured and recorded with Zenon as part of his multimedia project “Identities Are Changeable” and concluded that “the trombone is the perfect instrument for Miguel’s music in many ways.”
“He successfully combines polyrhythms, clearly drawing from traditional Puerto Rican music, but in a very advanced way, with rhythm as a musical character, drawing on the layered rhythm of Steve Coleman. On its own, that can max out the average ear, but he somehow combines that with this incredible lyricism that just sings over this really complex rhythmic fabric.”
If the “Golden City Suite” presents Zeno in his most ambitious experiment, then his April 28 duet concert offers a stripped-down context in which his horn truly replaces the human voice. Presented by the Hammer Theater Center and San Jose State University, the Black Cab Jazz Private Series is an intimate concert featuring Venezuelan-born violist and pianist Luis Perdomo performing songs from his ballad-packed El Arte del Bolero album.
This is a pandemic project that allowed them to record their own music and quickly release it through the Bandcamp digital platform. While it may seem like a Latin American version of a standard project, “El Arte del Bolero” is inspired by specific recordings.
“Most of the music I compose requires a lot of preparation to write, prepare and rehearse,” Zenon said. “It’s nice to go to the other side and just play the songs. And with these songs, you don’t only think about the lyrics, but also about the specific version. So we came up with a program that just plays tunes from our part of the world.”
With a fierce mind and discipline, Zeno continues to break new musical ground, recalling the intricately layered past of the Golden State or singing romantic Latin American ballads with his brilliant horn.
Contact Andrew Gilbert at email@example.com.
Miguel Zenon Duet: 19:00 April 28; Hammer Theatre, San Jose; $25-35 Hammertheatre.com
“Golden City Lux”: 19:30 May 5-6, 11:00 May 7; SFJAZZ Center, San Francisco; 25-45 dollars (family matinee 5-23 dollars); www.sfjazz.org