Miguel Zenon & The Rhythm Collective, OYE!! Live in Puerto Rico

Ken Micallef

By Ken Micallef

on 05.28.13 in Reviews

On OYE!! Live in Puerto Rico, alto saxophonist, composer and MacArthur Foundation Fellow Miguel Zenon and his quartet (Tony Escapa, electric bassist Aldemar Valentin and percussionist Reynaldo De Jesus) make good on their stated mission, which is to bring greater jazz awareness to their native Puerto Rico. In this recording, they are treated like conquering heroes; the quartet has the rare ability to communicate jazz’s art and relevance to all audiences, and the fervent applause heard on this recording is testament.

An exemplary fusion of Latin rhythm, rich improvisation and beautiful melody

Zenon is no stranger to merging jazz and Latin music, as you can hear on recent Marsalis Music recordings such as Esta Plena and Alma Adentro. But OYE!! is first and foremost a live recording, and it’s infused with all the blood, sweat and glory of both a great performance and at times, a street fight. It communicates on a visceral level, each musician improvising and scorching the earth clean with Zenon’s often beautiful, always spirited alto saxophone leading the way.

OYE!! opens with a stomping downbeat accent and a percolating Latin rhythm, leading into the Tito Puente cha cha cha-turned Carlos Santana hit, “Oye Como Va.” Zenon manipulates the song’s familiar melody while The Rhythm Collective cooks the groove with a dry funk charge. The group constantly teases and toys with the song’s changui rhythm, electric bass prowling, drums floating and stinging — playful, but musically serious and powerful. “El Necio” increases the tempo and the melodic fervor, trading between Zenon’s alto excursions and Valentin’s fragrant solo bass, which recalls Jaco Pastorius by way of John Patitucci, his warmth connecting on a gut level. “JOS Nigeria” culls an Afrobeat, Fela-styled vibe, its undulating rhythm also recalling Weather Report’s sweltering “Black Market.” “Double Edge” closes the album in high vamp mode, Escapa and Valentin laying down a scalding rhythm while Zenon sails above the fray.

Though fusion is a bad word even today, OYE!! Live in Puerto Rico is an exemplary fusion of Latin rhythm, rich improvisation and beautiful melody all held aloft by excellent leadership. If jazz had 10 more Miguel Zenons, the idiom would be in much better cultural standing.