In Alma Adentro: The Puerto Rican Songbook (Marsalis Music), saxophonist, composer and arranger Miguel Zenón brings that jazz tradition home – his home.
The album is comprised of 10 pieces, two each by Bobby Capó, Tite Curet Alonso, Pedro Flores, Rafael Hernández, and Sylvia Rexach, who Zenón refers to as “the George Gershwins, Cole Porters and Jerome Kerns of Puerto Rican song,” and it features his regular quartet augmented by a 10-piece wind ensemble. The music was arranged by Zenón and orchestrated by Argentine pianist, composer and arranger Guillermo Klein.
“This project grew out of my interest in exploring the history and development of The Puerto Rican song,” says Zenón in a news release. “… I started focusing on the similar characteristics between The Puerto Rican Songbook and The Great American Songbook, not only musically, but also in terms of cultural impact. From there on, the project started to take shape.”
Zenón has explored his musical heritage previously in albums such as Jibaro (2005), in which he revisited the country music of Puerto Rico, and last year’s Esta Plena, in which he reinterpreted the traditional plena style.
“These are songs I know well because either my parents listened to them or they were very popular when I was a kid, so I grew up listening to them,” he says and, he notes, he’s not alone. “We have been playing some of these songs with the quartet for awhile, and after every concert we have people who come to tell us ‘You know, my mom used to listen to that song on the radio…’ or ‘I used to hear that song when I was younger…’.”
But in Alma Adentro the subject is popular song – and it transcends regionalisms.The wind ensemble and Zenón’s core quartet – Luis Perdomo, piano; Hans Glawischnig, bass; and Henry Cole, drums – were recorded in the same room, live.
“Very often when I play this type of material I’m thinking about the lyrics to the song,” he says. “In this case these are songs I know well so it’s actually difficult for me not to think about the lyrics. But eventually, you internalize the words and make it more your own, then it becomes something much more personal.”
Remaking popular songs is part of the stock in trade of a jazz musician, but Alma Adentro was a profoundly different experience for Zenón.
“This was not just about melodies and harmonies,” he says. “There was a deeper, more emotional connection here. I grew up with these songs and they all had a very special and lasting effect on me.”