“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.”
“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.”
“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.