Album review: "Alma Adentro: The Puerto Rican Songbook"
Anyone following jazz saxophonist Miguel Zenon's career knows that two of his albums, "Jibaro" and "Esta Plena," explored traditional Puerto Rican rhythms. His new release, "Alma Adentro: The Puerto Rican Songbook," shifts the focus from original compositions inspired by indigenous beats to popular tunes by five Puerto Rican masters: Rafael Hernandez, Pedro Flores, Sylvia Rexach, Bobby Capo and Tite Curet Alonso.
Zenon approaches this standards collection with customary care, arranging and sequencing the tunes to create an intriguing song cycle of sorts. The emphasis is on boleros and ballads, though the compositions span much of the 20th century.
Beginning with the opening track, "Juguete," it's clear that Zenon has no interest in merely wooing listeners. His interpretations are harmonically sophisticated and rhythmically compelling, enhanced by pianist Luis Perdomo's bright chromaticism and the often aggressive attack sustained by bassist Hans Giawischnig and drummer Henry Cole. The alto saxophonist's supremely soulful way with a melody is also on display, with the album's title track a prime example. All the while, Guillermo Klein's woodwind orchestrations are an additional enhancement - rich in color, texture and sweep.
--Mike Joyce, Nov. 4, 2011