What do the Mingus Big Band and Miguel Zenón's large ensemble have in common? A few things. Both contain 14 players. Both played at the Newport Jazz Festival on Sunday, August 7, 2011. Hans Glawsichnig was the bassist, underpinning both. And both sets are passionate and colorful. Maybe it's the rainy backdrop, but the wind players seem especially chromatic in voicings and solos.
First, the Mingus Big Band opens with a roar on expansive, bluesy arrangements of Charles Mingus pieces, righteously angry and then tender. Next, Miguel Zenón plays melodies from the Puerto Rican songbook, powered by rhythm and voiced for a 10-piece wind ensemble of flutes, reeds, double reeds and horns. It's romantic and exhilarating.
Mother Nature poured cold water on Newport early Sunday afternoon. In fact, the longer the Mingus band plays, the fewer remain on the lawn to hear it. But the group shakes its collective fist at the rain — and at infamous former Arkansas Gov. Orval Faubus, who stymied court-ordered school desegregation in his state more than 50 years ago — with Mingus' best-known protest song, "Fables of Faubus."
Tenor saxophonist Seamus Blake follows with a beautiful interpretation of "Goodbye, Porkpie Hat," Mingus' elegy for Lester Young (1909-59). Blake's tenor hands off to Miguel Zenón's alto. It's a nice moment.
Mingus Big Band Personnel: Earl Gardner, Kenny Rampton, Alex Sipiagin: trumpets; Joe Fiedler, Conrad Herwig, Earl McIntyre: trombones; Seamus Blake, Wayne Escoffery, Alex Foster, Lauren Sevian, Scott Robinson: saxophones; Helen Sung, piano; Hans Glawischnig, bass; Johnathan Blake, drums.
Across the park at Newport, Zenón's large ensemble is playing with emotion, but on a smaller stage and under a tent. This is a rare live performance, perhaps the only live performance, of music from Zenón's album Alma Adentro.
The saxophonist lives in New York. In quick succession, he's won both the Guggenheim and MacArthur Fellowships, and used the funds to invest in the bond between Puerto Rican music and jazz. Though a visionary, Zenón starts from his roots: the music his parents' generation listened to at home. He remembers how his mother would sing and cry to her favorite songs. Now, he is holding the prism of jazz up to these songs. It's a rigorous process with radiant results. From the first notes of "Silencio" leaping out of Zenón's horn, the music holds up to the rhythmic refractions and intense improvising, and glows through the orchestrations.
Another common thread might be the choice woodwinds and horns in Miguel Zenón's ensemble; the instrumentation of the Mingus Orchestra is similar, coming in February to JazzSet.
Zenon Quartet Personnel: Miguel Zenón, alto saxophone; Luis Perdomo, piano; Hans Glawischnig, bass; Henry Cole, drums.
Zenon large ensemble personnel: Nathalie Joachim, Jessica Schmitz, Domenica Fossati: flutes; Alexey Gorokholinsky, Christof Knoche: clarinets; Katie Scheele, oboe; Keve Wilson, English horn; Brad Balliett, bassoon; Jennifer Kessler, Ian D. Donald: French horns.