IDENTITIES ARE CHANGEABLE
AN EXTENDED MUSICAL WORK FOR LARGE ENSEMBLE ABOUT NATIONAL IDENTITY, AS EXPERIENCED BY THE
PUERTO RICAN COMMUNITY IN THE NEW YORK CITY AREA
ALBUM TO BE RELEASED NOVEMBER 4, 2014
Saxophonist/Composer Zenón is Multiple Grammy Nominee
and Guggenheim and MacArthur Fellow
This is home
in the sense that
these are the streets
I grew up in,
this is where my friends are.
But that’s home
because that’s where my parents came from
and they always talk about that
and I dream about it.
— Juan Flores
Alto saxophonist and composer Miguel Zenón asked his friends the question he had been asking himself:
What does it mean to be Puerto Rican in 21st-century New York City?
That was the point of departure for Identities Are Changeable, the startlingly original album by Miguel Zenón, who grew up in the island’s main city of San Juan and came to New York in 1998 to pursue a career in music.
Zenón‘s experience of moving via the air bridge from the small Antillean island to the landing strip 1600 miles north is something he shares with hundreds of thousands of other “Puerto Rican-New Yorkers.”
Puerto Ricans are not immigrants in the United States: for nearly a century – since 1917 – Puerto Ricans have, unlike other natives of Latin America, been US citizens, able to come and go as they please between the island of Puerto Rico and the mainland. When they come north, overwhelmingly they go to
New York City. After different waves of migration over the decades – most numerously in the 1950s – about 1.2 million “Puerto Rican-Americans” were living in the greater New York area as of 2012.
* * *
Miguel Zenón has become one of jazz’s most original thinkers. Today, at the age of 37, he’s one of the best-known alto saxophonists in jazz. The quartet he leads has been working together for more than ten years, building its ensemble coherence on stages all over the world. But Zenón’s more than a great musician and bandleader.
One of only a handful of jazz musicians to be chosen for the coveted MacArthur fellowships (in 2008), he’s at the forefront of a new movement that in recent years has brought the composer to a new prominence in jazz. But beyond his facility at writing and playing music, there is a great intellectual subject at the center of Miguel Zenón‘s artistic world: the complexity of Puerto Rican culture.
Beginning with his third album as a leader, Jíbaro (2005), and continuing with Esta Plena (2009) and Alma Adentro: The Puerto Rican Songbook (2011) (both Grammy-nominated), and Oye!!! Live In Puerto Rico (2013), Miguel Zenón has created a series of thoughtfully framed works that interpret different facets of Puerto Rican culture. Zenón’s Puerto Rico is a bit like Gabriel García Márquez’s Colombia or Gilberto Gil’s Brazil: the highly focused center of an imaginative universe that looks to the world while being rooted at home. It serves a springboard for his personal style: no one else’s Puerto Rico – and no one else’s jazz – sounds like Miguel Zenón‘s.
Identities Are Changeable, Zenón’s powerful new composition, is a song cycle for large ensemble, with his longtime quartet (Luis Perdomo, piano; Hans Glawischnig, bass; Henry Cole, drums) at the center, incorporating recorded voices from a series of interviews conducted by Zenón. Commissioned as a multi-media work by Montclair State University’s Peak Performances series, it has a multi-media element with audio and video footage from the interviews, complemented by a video installation created by artist David Dempewolf. It’s been performed at such prestigious venues as the New England Conservatory’s Jordan Hall in Boston, The SFJAZZ Center in San Francisco, and Zankel Hall in the Carnegie Hall complex in New York City.
The album version of Identities Are Changeable is a labor of love, produced by Miguel Zenón without commercial backing. It will be released November 4, 2014 as only the second title on his personal label, Miel Music.
I think more and more people are realizing
that you can be more than one cultural self
at the same time,
and you’re at the crossings of those.
Rather than being just squarely in one,
you’ll be at the crossings.
— Juan Flores
The core of Identities Are Changeable is a series of English-language interviews Miguel Zenón conducted with seven New Yorkers of Puerto Rican descent. His initial impetus for the project came from reading The Diaspora Strikes Back: Caribeño Tales of Learning and Turning, a book by cultural theorist Juan Flores based on interviews with Puerto Ricans who had returned to the island after living on the mainland. Zenón turned the tables and interviewed Flores, whose insightful commentary grounds Zenón’s finished work.
Other interviewees who weave in and out of the musical texture are Miguel Zenón‘s sister Patricia Zenón; the young musicians Luqués Curtis and Camilo Molina; actress Sonia Manzano; poet Bonafide Rojas; and family friend Alex Rodríguez. This is speech as music: their recorded voices, speaking off-the-cuff in their own surroundings with the sound of the city around them, tell the story. Writing about it in The Wall Street Journal, jazz journalist Larry Blumenfeld quoted Zenón:
“I asked pretty much the same things to everyone,” [Zenón] said, “the essential question being ‘What does it mean to be Puerto Rican?'” As Mr. Zenón analyzed his footage, themes emerged: Do you speak English or Spanish? How is tradition passed on?
Zenón identified key excerpts from the interviews and grouped them into six thematically related clusters: national identity, home, blackness, language, the next generation, and music. As he began writing instrumental music to support the voices, those clusters became six fully elaborated musical movements, plus an intro and outro, making for a 75-minute work of symphonic dimensions.
I always thought I was the blackest Puerto Rican.
Because I was a Black Panther
before I was a Young Lord,
because I liked Hendrix
before I liked Hector Lavoe.
— Bonafide Rojas
Identities Are Changeable showcases Miguel Zenón‘s most ambitious instrumental writing yet. It’s scored for a 16-piece large ensemble, consisting of Zenón’s working quartet supplemented by five saxes, four trumpets, and three trombones.
If you think you already know what that sounds like, think again: though this pulsating, percolating music is intensely rhythmic, it’s not achieved through the now traditional mambo-style section writing. It’s still Latin, and it’s still jazz, but this sonority – Zenón‘s first big-band score – presents a different kind of compositional and orchestrational challenge, and a different kind of polyrhythm. It’s more like modern symphonic writing, with layered multiple meters that give new meaning to the term “harmonic rhythm” as they create a translucent texture.
Zenón explains: “all of the compositions explore the idea of multiple rhythmic structures coexisting with each other (e.g., 5 against 7, 3 against 2, 5 against 3).” Drummer Henry Cole has his hands (and feet) full holding down the simultaneous time streams, as does Zenón when he conducts the group live. The players are a selected elite team – hear John Ellis’s tenor solo on “Same Fight,” or Tim Albright’s trombone feature on “First Language.” There’s no way to convey in words the impact of the orchestral effects, but reviewing the Zankel Hall performance for The New York Times, Ben Ratliff writes:
“[The] sound and language didn’t directly suggest traditional Puerto Rican music or traditional jazz. Its rhythm was phrased almost completely in stacked or odd meter, with parts of the band shifting into double or half time, and Mr. Zenón’s saxophone darting around the chord changes or resting on top, in long tones.
There was drama and momentum in the music’s developing harmonic movement; at times a shift to a new chord felt like an event. All the music was deeply hybridized and original, complex but clear.”
It’s all at the service of Zenón’s relentless curiosity, as he writes in the album’s liner notes:
When I first came into contact with Puerto Rican communities in this country, I was shocked to meet second and third generation Puerto Ricans who were as connected to the traditions of their parents/grandparents and as proud to be Puerto Rican as the people I knew back home. Where was this sense of pride coming from? What did they consider their first language? Their home? What did it mean to them to be Puerto Rican? What are the elements that help us shape our national identity?
About Miguel Zenón
Multiple Grammy nominee and Guggenheim and MacArthur Fellow Miguel Zenón is one of a select group of musicians who have masterfully balanced and blended the often contradictory poles of innovation and tradition. Widely considered one of the most groundbreaking and influential saxophonists of his generation, he has also developed a unique voice as a composer and as a conceptualist, concentrating his efforts on perfecting a fine mix between Latin American folkloric music and jazz. Born and raised in San Juan, Puerto Rico, Zenón has released eight recordings as a leader, including Oye!!! Live in Puerto Rico (2013), Rayuela (2012) and the Grammy nominated Alma Adentro (2011). As a sideman he has worked with jazz luminaries such as The SFJAZZ Collective, Charlie Haden, David Sánchez, The Mingus Big Band, Bobby Hutcherson, Fred Hersch, Kenny Werner and Steve Coleman. Zenón has been featured in publications such as The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Los Angeles Times, as well as gracing the cover of DownBeat. He has also toped the Rising Star Alto Sax category of the DownBeat Critic’s Poll on four different occasions. As a composer he has been commissioned by SFJAZZ, The New York State Council for the Arts, Peak Performances, Chamber Music America, The John Simon Guggenheim Foundation, and many of his peers. Zenón has given hundreds of lectures and master classes at institutions all over the world, and is a permanent faculty member at New England Conservatory in Boston, MA. In 2011 he founded Caravana Cultural, a program which presents free-of-charge jazz concerts in rural areas of Puerto Rico.
In April 2008 Zenón received a fellowship from the prestigious John Simon Guggenheim Foundation. Later that year, he was one of 25 distinguished individuals chosen to receive the coveted MacArthur Fellowship, also known as the “Genius Grant.”
Identities are Changeable, his ninth recording as a leader, will be released November 4th, 2014.
For more info: www.miguelzenon.com
Miguel Zenón- Tour Dates
JULY 12: Miguel Zenón Quartet @ Festival de Jazz en Jalisco, Guadalajara, Mexico
AUG 1: Miguel Zenón Identities Big Band @ Newport Jazz Festival, Newport, RI
AUG 30: Miguel Zenón Quartet @ UW-Stevens Point Festival, Stevens Point, WI
AUG 31: Miguel Zenón Quartet @ Chicago Jazz Festival, Chicago, IL
SEPT 27: Miguel Zenón Quartet, Beantown Jazz Festival, Boston, MA
NOV 2: Miguel Zenón Quartet @ Princeton Jazz Nights, Princeton, NJ
NOV 5: Miguel Zenón Quartet @ The Atlas, Washington, DC
NOV 6: Miguel Zenón Quartet @ Outpost, Albuquerque, NM
NOV 7: Miguel Zenón Quartet @ Clifton Center, Louisville, KY
NOV 8 & 9: Miguel Zenón Quartet @ Dazzle, Denver, CO
NOV 10: Miguel Zenón Quartet @ Earshot Jazz, Seattle, WA
NOV 12: Miguel Zenón Quartet @ Redwood Jazz Alliance, Arcata, CA
NOV 14: Miguel Zenón Quartet @ Jimmy Mak’s, Portland, OR
NOV 15: Miguel Zenón Quartet @ Broad Stage, Los Angeles, CA
NOV 18–23: Miguel Zenón Quartet @ Village Vanguard, New York, NY
FEB 12: Miguel Zenón Quartet @ Bimhuis, Amsterdam, The Netherlands
FEB 13: Miguel Zenón Quartet @ Paradox, Tilbourg, The Netherlands
FEB 14: Miguel Zenón Quartet @ AMR Geneve, Geneva, Switzerland
FEB 18: Miguel Zenón Quartet @ Pannonica, Nantes, France
FEB 20: Miguel Zenón Quartet @ San Severo, Italy
FEB 21: Miguel Zenón Quartet @ Jazz Club Ferrara, Ferrara, Italy
FEB 26: Miguel Zenón Quartet @ Jazz Club Singen, Singen, Germany
FEB 27: Miguel Zenón Quartet @ Birdland, Neuberg, Germany
MAR 5: Miguel Zenón Quartet @ JazzSchule Jazz Club, Basel, Switzerland
MAR 20: Miguel Zenón Quartet @ + Video, Hostos College, New York, NY
MAR 21: Miguel Zenón Quartet @ Montgomery Community College, Blue Bell, PA
MAR 26-29: Miguel Zenón Quartet @ Jazz Showcase, Chicago, IL
The Harlem Arts Festival is set to kick off this Friday, June 27th. For a third consecutive year, the HAF will seek to increase visibility for home-grown artists and businesses. Yours truly will be presenting the opening night party at MIST Harlem featuring Andrew Kaminski, Emily Braden, Charisa the ViolinDiva, and Mad Satta. Dj Raydar Ellis will then be manning the wheel-of-steel as he spins tunes all night for a dance party after the performances. You won’t want to miss our opening night party at MIST so get your tickets now.
Following the opening festivities comes the heart of the festival located at Harlem’s iconic Marcus Garvey Park from Saturday, June 28th to Sunday, June 29th. Come out and watch artists from all disciplines showcase their work at the Richard Rodger’s Amphitheater, the festival’s main stage. Adding to the Richard Rodger’s main stage is a second stage located near the northwest entrance to the park and on the HAF Gallery Walk. Discussions, workshops, and a Kid’s Corner are also featured in this all ages festival so make sure to invite your niece, nephew, uncle, auntie, great-uncle, great-auntie twice removed, and that annoying neighbor who lives directly above you.
The HAF’s executive director, Neal Ludevig, had this to say about this year’s annual gathering:
“The Harlem Arts Festival is becoming an annual destination for not only for local residents, but for people from all over the city. It’s been amazing to watch the festival and the HAF family grow exponentially year after year.”
Historian and critic Ted Gioia brings up hard hitting points that highlight the current state of jazz in an article aptly titled “Jazz (The Music of Coffee and Donuts) Has Respect, But It Needs Love.” In the article, Mr. Gioia briefly references a study by the University of Arkansas that indicates thatjazz makes your food taste better (“Cornbread” anyone?), how Peet’s Coffee Shop launched a “Jazz Giants” station on Pandora, and how at any given moment Kind of Blue could be playing at any of Starbuck’s 20,000 outlets worldwide. But this wasn’t just a nonsensical article about the relationship between Kenny Gorelick‘s evil empire blasting straight-ahead albums to sell coffee. Ted Gioia – who has penned several notable books like The Jazz Standards: A Guide to the Repertoire, West Coast Jazz: Modern Jazz in California 1945-1960, and The History of Jazz – isn’t writing in order to harp about coffee and jazz. The article hits at a much deeper level.
Having grown up in a society where colleges offer performance degrees in jazz, it’s difficult to imagine a time when jazz was considered the devil’s music. I’ve conducted enough interviews with enough notable artists from Ambrose Akinmusire to José James to tell you that they don’t feel that being a jazz musician is a social taboo. What is striking in Mr. Gioia’s article is how he reflects upon “a deeper attitudinal shift among the general public.” The esteemed historian goes on to say, “Jazz music, I suspect, is perceived much differently nowadays than it was a generation ago.”
Jazz’s association with sophistication isn’t surprising. The music of Mozart and Bach are usually associated with sophistication. But this wasn’t always the case. A waltz – before it became piano music repertoire – was a form of dance and was usually performed at parties. A gigue wasn’t just a piece where we can marvel at Glen Gould‘s technique, it was for dancing.
Likewise, swing wasn’t just a phrase that dudes at jam session use to vibe each other if someone wasn’t “swingin’ hard enough.” It was a form of dance. I’m reminded of an interview I once conducted with trumpeter Etienne Charles about the importance of dance in jazz and in music. Charles had this to say about his thoughts on dance music:
“If you’re talking about Count Basie‘s music, that’s dance music. A lot of Duke Ellington‘s records—that’s based on dance rhythms.”
So what’s the connection between Kenny Gorelick’s evil empire, Ted Gioia’s article, Bach and Mozart, dance music, and jazz have to do with Revive? As stated in an article written earlier this week about the late Horace Silver, we are in the business of generating the feel-good and bringing the stank face back into fashion. It is this ethos that drives us to do what we do from concert promotions and presentations, to artist interviews, and articles like these.
The core of the Mr. Gioia’s article comes at the end when he writes:
“Let me be blunt: I don’t want the next generation of music lovers to associate jazz with Frappuccinos and frosted donuts.”
Bill Kirchner, another notable historian who I had the extreme fortune to study with at The New School, once told our history class that he feels uneasy whenever he goes to jazz concerts and sees more people around his age group. Mr. Kirchner is a man rife with stories about the greatest jazz legends. Listen, the man can probably tell you the color socks Coltrane was wearing during the Giant Steps sessions. But out of all the many things that he imparted to us in the three semesters of classes I took with him, his concern about jazz’s listening demographic struck a chord with me – a very, very altered chord with all sorts of extensions and sorts.
Like I’ve said, Mr. Gioia’s concerns aren’t new and the museumification of jazz is what happened to the music of Mozart and Bach many years ago. While Mr. Gioia’s concerns about the dwindling record sales and the association of jazz with fraps and donuts are commendable, I’m also reminded of another great music thinker who once rapped these verses in a song called “I Am Music” from an album titled Electric Circus:
“You can’t categorize me, my mind’s a art
Inside my heart, it ain’t about climbing charts
I’m the one you roll with when your ride is smart
The change that came, the change that comes
I change with chords and I kick it with drums
Get blow with horns and did it on the one
Riffed for guitars, for the Lord I sung
Spun around the world at parties and weddings
Wherever I go I create the setting
You know me from lessons or your pops collections
Whether whole or half stepping I’m a blessing
Yo I am music.“
Rest assured Mr. Gioia, as long as we at Revive are around, the next generation will never associate jazz with Kenny Gorelick’s evil empire.
Prince recently pulled an um… Prince when he invited a contributor from Minneapolis’ Star Tribune to rap about a few things. The tribune’s Jon Bream had the distinct honor of being taken to the Paisley Park compound to listen to some of the purple one’s new funk and discuss a new solo project that had come together recently, totally independent of his anxiously awaited full-length with 3rdEyeGirl Plectrum Electrum. In a true-blue move out of Prince’s Book Of Social Judo, the artist did not even show to the intimate listening party. Rather, he opted to conduct the feedback session via speakerphone, no doubt phoning in from another room in his house.
He went on to speak with Bream about this funkier dolo record, a song with Rita Ora that he’s been dying to unleash, how the release process has been painstakingly slow — particularly when attempting to contact label execs — even with his freshly inked deal with Warner Bros. and how he finds that pace to be indicative of the industry at large. He explained :
“Every No. 1 song, every Top 10 song, every song in the Top 40 is at least six months old, we should be able to make music and put it out now.”
Bream notes that their were at least three exceptional cuts on the new LP, including “The Golden Ring,” which he describes as “percolating electro-funk, an update of classic Prince with a lyric that referenced the notions of ‘wild and rude’ from his previous days”; “This Could Be Us,” a ballad inspired by a meme of him riding his motorcycle with Apollonia in tow from Purple Rain and a “funkier and nastier” rework of his 3rdEyeGirl bopper “FUNK N’ ROLL.” So as always, there’s plenty in the works from the great sage. Head over to Star Tribune for the full script and keep your eyes and ears locked for the latest from his Purple Majesty.
Kanye West was one of countless luminaries interviewed for their take on some Stones Throw‘s most influential contributions to hip-hop’s ever evolving landscape in the documentary Our Vinyl Weighs A Ton. In a newly surfaced extended bonus clip from the ST chronicle, Yeezy can be found discussing the influence and legacy of J Dilla, comparing him to iconic figures like Michael Jackson, Steve Jobs, Biggie andTupac. He then goes on to describe the sense of duty and obligation he feels as a producer living after Dilla, claiming to work on the GOAT’s behalf and constantly keeping his voice in mind when creating to make sure all would have been kosher if Jay Dee could have heard it.
West goes on to describe what it was like working with Madlib, calling on the Beat Konducta to come with some of that new raw. It’s a true treat of a clip, from what seems to be a bonus section from the upcoming DVD release of the documentary, which features interviews and words from the aforementioned Ye’, plus Questlove, Madlib,Flying Lotus, Peanut Butter Wolf, Common, Talib Kweli, Dam-Funk and so many more (not to mention an extensive portfolio of unseen live footage of their star-stunting roster.) Watch a rarely sentimental Kanye give his thoughts on Dilla’s place in the pop hierarchy at the time marks 21:44 and 24:09 below and be sure to cop Our Vinyl Weighs A Ton on DVD and its Madlib-headed OST via StonesThrow.com today.
Ma Dukes is a woman with a whole lotta weight to bear. As both survivor and manager of her son J Dilla‘s estate, one can imagine that it might be a bit daunting to get a grasp of such an immense body of work, especially after that storage unit debacle, doubling or even tripling that catalogue with tapes no one had ever heard. But whatever the downsides the upside is…it seems we’ll get yet another posthumous release. In a year that’s already seen 3 in The Diary, Lost Scrolls Vol. 1 and the Diamond & Ice EP, we’ll see another page added to what is already a deep posthumous release schedule in the form of Ma Dukes’ handpicked and supervised The King Of Beats box set.
As a longtime naysayer in regards to repackaged donuts with varying degrees of MC aptitude, to hear that there were plans to bring yet another tape to surface was actually pretty unsettling. But in this particular instance, it seems Mama may truly know best, as there don’t seem to be any swagger-jacking local MCs to spit garbage over Dilla’s fortified audible gold. She explains in an interview with Rolling Stone :
“This project came about by a lot of soulsearching and meditation as to what can I do now that my son has so many bootleg projects out by unknown artists. Now that I’m out of mourning and full of insight and feeling my son’s energy radiate around me, I wanted to do something different but iconic; Something that people would preserve and relish for a lifetime that spoke quality.”
The latest batch of funk to drop from beyond the grave will be spread across more mediums than you can simultaneously play, rolling-out on four 10-inch vinyl pressings, a cassette with 5 extra beats on it and a floppy (yes, a floppy) of an extra beat, essentially covering the gamut of how his goliath catalogue came to be. We got a taste of the aptly named “Filth” last week, and I tell ya, I get the feeling we’ll be getting a few more before that late August day. We’ll have plenty more on The King Of Beats as we creep up on its release, so be sure to hold tight. You can cop the preorder for this mammoth release tomorrow via jdillathekingofbeats.com. Head over to Rolling Stone for the full script.
Starbucks received wonderful publicity for its offer to pay the tuition of thousands of workers who took online courses at Arizona State University.
But there is a catch.
“Any Starbucks employee who works at least 20 hours per week will soon be able to complete his/her junior and senior years of college at Arizona State University (ASU) Online, thanks to a deal between the coffeehouse colossus and the institute of higher learning. But not everyone thinks that the new plan is such a great deal for Starbucks employees.
The Starbucks College Achievement Plan, which replaces an earlier tuition assistance program in the company’s benefits package, was officially unveiled at a public forum in New York’s Times Center. U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan put in an appearance at the forum during which he told Starbucks employees, “I urge you to take advantage of this.”
A joint statement from Starbucks…
View original post 396 more words