By Ed Enright | Published September 2018
The eight chamber pieces for alto saxophone and string quartet that constitute Miguel Zenón’s Yo Soy La Tradición pair structural beauty with emotional urgency while celebrating Puerto Rico’s cultural, religious and musical traditions.
The hour-long suite originally was commissioned by Chicago’s Hyde Park Jazz Festival, where it made its premiere in a September 2016 concert that featured the San Juan-born saxophonist in collaboration with the locally based Spektral Quartet. Now available as a studio recording featuring the same lineup of artists, Yo Soy La Tradición runs far deeper than your typical horn-plus-strings album. Spektral Quartet, known for its fearless outlook and a proven ability to create seamless connections across centuries of classical music, is a driving force on the album, interacting directly with Zenón as the saxophonist develops motifs and improvisations drawn from more than a decade’s worth of field research into Puerto Rican traditions. While folkloric in its origins, the music here is decidedly modern, a complex, multi-layered weave of new music and progressive jazz that marks a high point of Zenón’s ever-evolving oeuvre. It all comes together beautifully. Yo Soy La Tradición makes a profound statement about finding common ground between seemingly disparate musical genres and discovering the spiritual source of one’s artistic identity.
Zenón and the Spektral Quartet will perform the piece as a benefit concert for Puerto Rican hurricane relief on Sept. 21 at the Segundo Ruiz Belvis Cultural Center in Chicago.