The Michigan Daily: Zenón and the Spektral Quartet at The Cube

“Much of the concert functioned like a study in contrasts. Often the quartet would lock into a tight and controlled pattern, almost hocket-like, providing a backdrop for Zenón to improvise fluid and athletic lines above, below, around and within the quartet’s music, the rigidity of the quartet starkly different from the saxophone line. At other times the contrasts would be sectional — at one moment all the musicians might be sawing out a line in fierce melodic and rhythmic unison (like in“Milagrosa,” which near its end was quite reminiscent of Messiaen’s famous “Dance of Fury” movement in “Quartet for the End of Time”), and in the next they might break out into a joyful and light latin-inflected groove, as if spontaneously.

One thing that felt like less of a contrast than might be thought, however, was the blending of different musical traditions. The juxtaposition of jazz and the seething string harmonies hardly felt like juxtaposition at all — the music’s disparate influences blended seamlessly together. Zenón’s smooth improvisation over the strings interwove easily with the textures, and at times members of the quartet matched this spontaneity of sound with improvisatory sections of their own, as Zenón confirmed to me when I asked him afterwards.

Zenón and Spektral Quartet together were fascinating together, and this type of concert is exactly the sort of programing that helps keep a contemporary arts organization alive and vibrant in the modern world.”

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NPR Tiny Desk Concerts: Miguel Zenón feat. Spektral Quartet

“Saxophonist Miguel Zenón is a big thinker — that much is clear from his recorded output, with its deep and inspiring connection to the folk traditions of his native Puerto Rico. But you also get that sense from his turn behind the Tiny Desk, where we can watch the concentration on his face and those of his adventurous band, the Spektral Quartet. This is life-affirming music with curious twists and turns, expertly performed by amazingly talented musicians.

There are two ways to marvel at the stunning unison playing that comes about three-quarters of the way through "Milagrosa." First, listen with your eyes closed. The notes cascade at a such a fast clip, it can leave you breathless. Now, watch with your eyes open: It's a joy to see Zenón and his band read the notes from the page, at times sneaking in visual cues with smiles just below the surface. It must be such a pleasure to make music like this.”

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San Diego Tribune: Best jazz albums of 2018, from Wayne Shorter and Henry Threadgill to Myra Melford and Miguel Zenón

“On his 11th album as a solo artist, the splendid saxophonist Miguel Zenón fuses jazz, chamber-music and various idioms from his native Puerto Rico to create a sublime synthesis.”

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JazzTimes: Top 50 Albums of 2018

“All of Zenón’s varied projects have seemed propelled by a singular quest, and with this magisterial chamber music outing the alto saxophonist grabs hold of the grail as never before. Becoming in effect a fifth member of the Spektral (string) Quartet, Zenón derives from the folkloric genres of his native Puerto Rico a strikingly individual musical hybrid, fluid and poetically expressive, yet unrelenting in its technical demands.”

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Chicago Tribune: 'Best classical recordings of 2018'

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”Miguel Zenon featuring Spektral Quartet: “Yo Soy La Tradicion”
 (Miel Music). In 2016, alto saxophonist and MacArthur Fellowship winner Zenon partnered with Chicago’s enterprising Spektral Quartet for the world premiere of his suite “Yo Soy La Tradicion” (“I Am Tradition”). Commissioned by the Hyde Park Jazz Festival, the piece wove the rhythms, cadences and song structures of Zenon’s native Puerto Rico into a sprawling work that intertwined classical, jazz, blues and folkloric vocabularies. By turns complex and accessible, historic and contemporary, “Yo Soy La Tradicion” represents a major contribution from composer Zenon, in an uncommonly sensitive collaboration with the Spektrals.”

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Boston Musical Intelligencer: Not Your Usual Tradición

“A CD debut concert at First Church of Boston on November 15th found the MacArthur-certified genius and Guggenheim Fellow Miguel Zenón alongside the magnificently flexible Spektral String Quartet, playing live, the music on his 11th ground-breaking album “Yo soy la tradiciòn.

 The group began the night with “Rosario,” ushered in by the cello’s low throaty pitch, reflective of a folksy, somewhat spiritual sounding church prelude. It is inspired by a Catholic Holy Rosary, traditionally played on folk instruments at funerals or other occasions. It is immediately interrupted with soulful, virtuosic alto saxophone lines. It beautifully juxtaposed 200-year-old classical music traditions and rule-bending modern jazz influences. Miguel Zenón and Spektral Quartet dove deep inside the musical/cultural history of Puerto Rico, but also looked towards Western music to uncover the wisdom behind the tradition. Tradition is, after all, nothing more than a “corpse of wisdom.” Miguel naturally challenges it with his exceedingly outgoing personality, extending it with his rich musical vocabulary of contemporary jazz. What is the point of a set-in-stone (musical) tradition if the wisdom behind it is not present anymore? It truly is a brave composition that connects The Catholic Church representing Holy Rosary’s musicalized order with a refreshing impressionistic texture, jagged rhythms, syncopated phrases and intense vibrancy that shines through Spektral’s musical delivery.”

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Jazziz: Miguel Zenón displays love and reverence for his musical heritage

“The saxophonist had written for string quartet before, but in preparing to work with the Chicago-based Spektral Quartet — Clara Lyon and Maeve Feinberg, violins; Doyle Armbrust, viola; Russell Rolen, cello — Zenón decided that he wanted true interaction between his alto and the quartet. “I wanted to feel [that I was] part of the ensemble,” he says. “I didn’t want this to be the kind of thing where the strings just play little [backgrounds] for me to play on top of. I also wanted to balance improvisation with what was written out.”

Yo Soy La Tradición was actually recorded as Hurricane Maria was battering the island nation. A year and a day later, Zenón held a release concert in Chicago on September 21, as a benefit for Chicago’s Hurricane Aid for Puerto Rican Arts. “That was the quartet’s idea,” he notes. “They saw me on the phone, trying to speak to my family, watching the news while we were making the record. They said, ‘We really want to do something.’”

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Jazzwise Magazine: Miguel Zenón featuring Spektral Quartet

“This beautifully constructed chamber set takes a different tack by complimenting Zenón’s dry tone, acute intellect and inner fire with the tonal subtleties of the Chicago-based Spektral Quartet. Zenón’s cool, rhythmically aware saxophone aesthetic is based on clean lines and obtuse harmonic angles and here they soar over, rummage in and merge with strings that draw on the full width of the contemporary classical canon.”

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Latin Jazz Network: Miguel Zenón – Yo Soy la Tradición

“It takes but a few bars of “Rosario”, the first chart of Yo Soy la Tradición, by composer and alto saxophonist Miguel Zenón to realise that this music is special. By the time you get to the end of the recording – eight magnificently-sculpted works performed by Mr Zenón with the Spektral Quartet – you will be in absolutely no doubt that this is his magnum opus. There are several reasons why; not the least among them is that this work for solo alto saxophone and string quartet is one of Mr Zenón’s most impressionistic works, full of shimmering and diaphanous textures that recall not only Debussy but also an extraordinary celebration of the alto saxophone played in a classical music style. Mr Zenón’s playing is so flawlessly pure and there is a wholly natural feeling to the way he executes the climaxes and sudden changes of direction in this perfectly judged performance. Moreover the saxophonist and the Spektral Quartet parlay so subtly and seamlessly that one senses musical dialogue is taking place between old friends deeply immersed in tradition.”

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NPR "All Things Considered" – Hurricane Maria Gave Composer Miguel Zenón's 'Yo Soy La Tradición' Emotional Urgency

Heard on All Things Considered

MICHELLE MERCER

“The latest album from composer Miguel Zenón, Yo Soy la Tradición is an eight-part suite written as an homage to his native home of Puerto Rico.”