Miguel Zenon’s “Sonero: The Music of Ismael Rivera”

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With the release of “Sonero: the Music of Ismael Rivera“, Miguel Zenon continues his mission to preserve part of the Puerto Rican culture through the magic of Jazz.

Sonero“, Another Great Concept

The concept behind “Sonero” has been used by Miguel very successfully throughout his career in other albums like “Esta Plena” (2009) and “Alma Adentro: The Puerto Rican Songbook” (2011). One distinction between “Sonero” and these two previous albums is that in “Sonero” the quartet plays alone, with no other supporting musicians.

Miguel Zenon recording "Sonero: the Music of Ismael Rivera"
Miguel Zenon provides another great concept album making jazz version of Ismael Rivera hit songs.

In “Sonero” Miguel employs the same approach of creating jazz music out of the Puerto Rican popular songbook. Ismael Rivera’s music was very popular since the 50’s through the mid-60’s with Cortijo y su Combo and then through the 80’s on his own. He was able to record great compositions that became emblems of popular music in Puerto Rico.

In “Alma Adentro“, Zenon already included a song made popular by Ismael Rivera in “Incomprendido“.

For the most part, Miguel keeps that same approach in “Sonero“. He seems to use the original song as inspiration to compose in top of it. The results can vary greatly, on purpose. Some songs follow closely to the original throughout the song, while others may stray so far away from the original that they are hard to recognize.

For example, “La Gata Montesa” is an example of the latter. The song is over 7 minutes long, but the first 5 1/2 minutes have no resemblance to the original. It isn’t until the last 1 1/2 minutes that we get Miguel’s version of the original. I’m not pretending to critique Miguel because of it, but rather want you to get a sense of how his creative mind works. But I have to confess, that when I first heard the song, I thought it was a different song, one that I didn’t know from Ismael Rivera.

Great Music in “Sonero

I enjoy how Miguel Zenon takes popular songs, and we seem to agree on taste for that music) and make his version of them in jazz. And lets be clear; they are in Jazz, not Latin Jazz.

"Sonero: the Music of Ismael Rivera" cover art
“Sonero” is Miguel Zenon’s 12th album with his Jazz quartet.

The performance of the Miguel Zenon Quartet is as excellent as always. Luis Perdomo, Henry Cole, Hans Glawischnig, and Miguel Zenon have been playing together for a long time, which in itself is a rarity in the music business, and it shows in the excellence of their music performance. Everyone in the quartet has plenty of opportunities to show their talent throughout the album, but that with solos or injecting their riffs just at the right moment.

They all have their songs where they shine. Henry established a great beat for “Colobo”, a song that was originally a “Bomba“. Luis Perdomo shines with his piano in “Hola” and “Las Tumbas“. Hans gets several solo opportunities, including in “Si Te Contara“, perhaps the lesser known of the Ismael Rivera songs in the album, and Miguel executes his award-winning solos in every song.

Sonero” is a Great Listen

I enjoyed listening to these jazz versions of songs made popular in the voice of Ismael Rivera. The music flows smoothly, and the original Ismael Rivera songs provide a great background for each of the performances.

All in all, “Sonero; the Music of Ismael Rivera” is a great jazz album for any fan of jazz, regardless of whether they’re familiar with the repertoire of the “Sonero Mayor” or not.

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