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The New York Times

Soft and Easy Does It Or Energetic Boogaloo


February 4, 2003
Copyright © 2003
The New York Times. All rights reserved. 

Miguel Zenon: Jazz Gallery

Miguel Zenon, who has just begun his own career as a bandleader in earnest with his first album, ''Looking Forward,'' comes to us via the same performing-arts high school in Puerto Rico that produced the saxophonist David Sanchez and the bassist John Benitez, and then two American jazz academies, Berklee and the Manhattan School of Music. This is all to say that he's in a perfect position to join forces with Mr. Sanchez and Mr. Benitez, who are already remaking the small-group jazz mainstream as a significantly Latinized idiom.

He played with his quartet on Saturday, and what one retained most was his own saxophone sound: once you hear it, you want to go back for more. The blithe lightness of his tone implies confidence; its soft, relaxed vibrato is curiously at odds with the fast movements of the music around him. He has learned a great deal from the way Charlie Parker serenely darted through rapid strings of notes, but also from Parker's ballad playing, the surreal beauty of his long tones.

In the theme sections of his five-song set, there was an overreliance on a certain compositional strategy. Over Antonio Sanchez's fleet, heavily accented drum rhythm, the pianist Luis Perdomo played a low-register line in a dark mode, which was doubled by the bassist Hans Glawischnig. This is already a well-worn device in recent jazz, and it sounds like a formal exercise; it doesn't need to be heard several times in the same set. For that reason, when the group tried something else -- like the slow opening of ''A Reminder of Us,'' with piano and bass alone, or the Latin-boogaloo line with rejiggered rhythmic accents in ''El Cruze'' -- it came as a tremendous relief.

In general this is a band that plays too many notes. (If there's one sin of youth that tends to go away over time, that's the one.) But on the evidence of his album (on Fresh Sound Records) and a supremely focused, energetic performance, it's clear that a great deal is within reach for it.

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