“Five years ago, the alto saxophonist Miguel Zenón was performing with his quartet at a club in Chicago when he was contacted by Julien Labro, a French accordionist based in Canada. Labro was in town making a record with Spektral, a Chicago-based string quartet that specialises in contemporary music. He had arranged a piece by Zenón, a racing tune called ‘El Club de la Serpiente’, for the session, and wanted to know if he would have any interest in recording it with them. Zenón went to the studio, and instantly clicked with the quartet. ‘The guys from Spektral were really on top of the music, which made the session very fun and easy,’ he told me. (‘El Club de la Serpiente’ appeared on Labro’s 2014 album From This Point Forward.) When the Hyde Park Jazz Festival commissioned Zenón to write a work for local musicians, ‘naturally I thought of Spektral.’
Before I say anything more about this breathtaking album, let me emphasise what it is not: jazz-with-strings, the archetypal middle-brow, mid-20th-century genre in which a jazz soloist improvises over an orchestral backdrop that would otherwise be of scant musical interest. No insult intended: I rather like jazz-with-strings, especially if the soloist is Charlie Parker. But the strings in jazz-with-strings seldom did more than create a lush ambience – an aspirational signifier of class and refinement at the time, now a quaint signifier of the time and its aspirations.”
This Friday, October 5th, we bring you Tonia Ko’s Plain, Air…a riveting encounter with the Lake Michigan shoreline ecology that received its world premiere just three weeks ago at the Openlands Lakeshore Preserve.
We’ve fallen head-over-heels for this string-quartet-and-electronics piece, and to this day, we’re fielding exuberant emails and text messages from concertgoers, eager to tell us about their personal reverberations following this unique experience.
“"Yo Soy La Tradición" is brilliant, an entrancing, attractive, intelligent, and often stunning collection of songs that blur the lines between classical, folk, jazz, and popular music. In fact, throw out any and all labels. The insistence on labels only insults the intelligence of the audience. Instead, focus on how beautiful - yes, beautiful - this music is. Listen deeply, smile with it, be moved by the passions and the emotions, and enjoy how seamless the arrangements are throughout. This is not "background music"; instead, this album will resonate for as long as you give yourself fully to the experience. Kudos to Miguel Zenón and the Spektral Quartet!”
“Zenón’s album Yo Soy La Tradición is not as explicitly political, though he says it’s hard not to find that in the series of eight new compositions, his alto sax woven with the Spektral strings.
Zenón says that much of the mission of this album is to shed a light on the beleaguered island commonwealth of Puerto Rico – not just post-Maria, with help still slow to come, but with a mind on issues that have existed for decades, some coming from its perceived status as a “lesser” part of the U.S. But the learning process most essential to the album, he says, was his own.
“As a Puerto Rican and a Puerto Rican musician, I’m amazed by how little I know,” he says. “Always something to discover, something around the corner. And when you get into something, there’s something more after that. A lot of the ideas on the album I’ve been focused on for a while, but wanted to dig deeper for this project.””
It tends to surprise me, though at this point it shouldn’t, just how quickly a catastrophe gets swallowed by the news cycle. In the day prior to Miguel Zenón’s arrival in Chicago for our recording sessions, the front pages and top-of-the-hour newscasts were strewn with images of a submerged Puerto Rico – of razed homes and trees at improbable angles.
We are ecstatic to announce the newest member of the Spektral team, Alyssa Martinez, who joins us as Development and Production Coordinator!
Deeply embedded in arts scenes around Chicago, Alyssa brings a veritable cornucopia of production and performance experience to her new role with us. We first encountered her manifold talents at a private chamber music series, where she burned brightly as events coordinator and general purveyor of good vibes. Our friendship went into orbit from that day forward, and we can't think of someone who "gets us" more than Alyssa when it comes to our many (and often mischievous) endeavors.
We have a brand-new record with saxophonist Miguel Zenón – Yo Soy La Tradición – dropping on September 21st, but this album release show is actually a benefit for the Puerto Rican victims of Hurricane Maria... a chance to celebrate new music and help out our fellow citizens!
With the date fast approaching, memories of our rehearsals and recording session have resurfaced. We'll delve into Miguel's experience with the fallout from the hurricane – which hit just days before we started working together – but today we'd like to share the rehearsal photos taken by our friend and supporter, Bob Watson.
We had an incredible time presenting our fifth annual Chamber Music Intensive in partnership with the University of Chicago Department of Music and the Reva and David Logan Center for the Arts, with support from the Associated Chamber Music Players. This year we had an absolutely lovely collection of participants, our second go-around teaching alongside pianist Daniel Pesca, and had the great good fortune of inviting violin pedagogue Lucy Chapman as our guest artist. And that's only the half of it...
(photos by interns Doyle Armbrust and Maeve Feinberg)