“He wasn’t just one of the guys. For me, he was beyond that” said Miguel Zenón about Ismael (“Maelo”) Rivera (1931-1987), the subject of his latest project, Sonero. “He exemplified the highest level of artistry. He was like Bird, Mozart, Einstein, Ali – he was that guy.”
Zenón knows something about musical greatness. He’s one of jazz’s most original thinkers, known for his harmonic complexity, and for being one of the most recognizable alto saxophonists of his generation. His great subject is his homeland of Puerto Rico, and he brings a fresh take on it every time out, combining reverence for cultural tradition with strong compositional chops. No one else’s Puerto Rico – and no one else’s jazz – sounds like Miguel Zenón’s.
Sonero: The Music of Ismael Rivera might be Miguel Zenón’s strongest album yet, and that’s saying a lot. For his twelfth album as a leader, Zenón and his quartet offer a tribute to a musician who influenced him from childhood: Ismael Rivera, who grew up in Santurce, not far from Zenón’s home turf. Familiarly known as Maelo, he’s a popular hero in Puerto Rico today, even more than 30 years after his death. “When people talk about him, they talk about him as you would about a legendary figure,” says Zenón. On the other side of the Caribbean, in Colombia, Venezuela, Panamá, he’s as popular as he is in Puerto Rico. But in the wider world, he’s not as well known. “One of my main goals here,” Zenón says, “is that I want everyone to know about him.”
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