Miguel Zenon’s “Alma Adentro” CD Review


Out-of-the-box creativity combined with extraordinary performance is a rare combination to find. Puerto Rican saxophonist Miguel Zenón’s “Alma Adentro” is a jewel of Latin American songs in a straight jazz format.

I hate to spill the beans up front in a CD Review, but “Alma Adentro: The Puerto Rican Songbook” is one of the most beautiful jazz recordings I have heard lately. Those who are not familiar with the Puerto Rican songbook will consider “Alma Adentro” an album of excellent jazz with beautiful compositions.

Those who grew up listening to some of these Puerto Rican-born Latin American classic songs will enjoy the fresh and amazingly creative arrangements. And yet, everyone who listens to “Alma Adentro” will enjoy the magnificent performance Miguel Zenón and his group provided in this jazz album.

As in previous albums, Miguel surrounds himself with his usual partners; Venezuelan Luis Perdomo on piano, Hans Glawischnig on bass, and Henry Cole on drums. The quartet is backed in the recording by a classical wind section of flutes, clarinets, oboe, English horn, and French horns.

“Alma Adentro: The Puerto Rican Songbook” was released in August 2011 and is Miguel Zenón’s 6th recording, and 5th (all except his 1st one) produced under the Marsalis Music label.

What I Like About “Alma Adentro”

Since I grew up listening to the Puerto Rican songbook, my 1st big impression of is the originality of the album concept and the song arrangements. “Alma Adentro” is not a Latin Jazz album, but simply a jazz album with Latin themes. The only percussion used is a standard set of trap drums. The normal route most Latin artists would follow when performing Latin songs is to do them in Latin Jazz (if Jazz would be their genre of choice). Miguel Zenón grew up as a true lover of jazz, and the same goes for the rest of his quartet.

Miguel Zenon's "Alma Adentro"
Miguel Zenón produced another great concept Jazz album with “Alma Adentro”.

The magic of successfully bringing the concept of performing Latin American songs in jazz format is in the quality of the arrangements. Miguel Zenón, aided by his friend and previous collaborator Guillermo Klein in the orchestrations, brings fresh arrangements to these songs, maintaining the original essence of the songs, and backing them with exceptional arrangements that allow the musicians to showcase their jazz chops.

The 3rd thing that I like about “Alma Adentro” is the excellent performance by the musicians. Miguel continues to polish his jazz technique, executing complicated solos (he was nominated for a Grammy for best solo for a song in his previous album “Esta Plena”) with extraordinary accuracy and emotion in every single note.

But an alto solo can’t carry the album alone, so the Manhattan School of Music graduate teamed with his alumni-mate Luis Perdomo on piano, who displays his jazz talent in almost every song of the album. Their execution along with that of Hans and Henry makes this album a delightful set to enjoy.

“Alma Adentro” is a tribute to 5 Puerto Rican composers; Rafael Hernandez, perhaps Puerto Rico’s premier composer and one of the top all-time in Latin America; Pedro Flores, contemporary to Hernandez and about equally talented, but perhaps without as much international exposure as Rafael Hernandez had; Sylvia Rexach, the short-lived bohemia diva of great poetic compositions; Bobby Capó, who was perhaps the best performer of the five composers and who focused more in composing in the 2nd half of his career, and Salsa great Tite Curet Alonso, who lifted salsa music and the career of several artists with his tailored-made compositions.

Songs like “Juguete”, “Silencio”, “Perdón”, “Olas y Arena”, y “Perfume de Gardenias” are such beautiful compositions that they are standards in Puerto Rican and Latin American songbooks. Yet, my favorite album song is “Incomprendido” a classic Salsa song popularized by Puerto Rican Salsa legend “Ismael Rivera” in the 1970s, which Miguel converted masterfully into a slow bolero-type of a jazz tune. This song exemplifies the innovation Miguel Zenón brings to jazz music with this recording.

My Recommendation

In this review, I spilled the bean from the beginning, so it should come as no surprise that I highly recommend this album to all jazz lovers in general, but also to Latin American music lovers in particular. Again, those not familiar with the Puerto Rican songbook will enjoy the great jazz and beautiful musicality of the compositions and arrangements.

Those of us who do recognize these classics will enjoy the innovative twist Miguel Zenón and Guillermo Klein bring to those classics. The musical performances are flawless, making “Alma Adentro: The Puerto Rican Songbook” a jewel to be enjoyed by all of us who love jazz.

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