Miguel Zenón Live at the Jazz Showcase – Concert Review


Miguel Zenón at the Jazz Showcase | September 19-22, 2013 | Review by Don Macica| Photos by Scott Pollard

Saxophonist Miguel Zenón brought an unusual project with him to Chicago this past weekend. Although the Santurce, Puerto Rico native often uses folkloric and other source material from the island as a basis for his compositions and arrangements, he rarely executes those ideas in an obviously Latin format. Instead, his regular quartet (which includes the extraordinary drummer Henry Cole, who brought his own Afrobeat Collective to Chicago last December) works almost exclusively on the jazz side, with Latin rhythms hinted at but not explicitly stated.

Miguel Zenón & the Rhythm Collective are something quite different, and his four nights of shows at the Jazz Showcase burned with Afro-Caribbean heat supplied by drummer Joel Mateo, bass guitarist Aldemar Valentin and especially percussionist Reinaldo de Jesus, who brought with him two tables worth of shakers, bells and other rhythm instruments to supplement his four congas. The Collective members are all from Puerto Rico, and the ensemble has played off and on for nearly a decade. A February 2011 gig in San Juan is documented on Zenón’s most recent release, Oye!!! Live in Puerto Rico.

Zenón started things off with a nod to Charlie Parker, whose image looms over the Showcase stage as both a blessing and a warning to the performers to keep it real. After that, though, it was Afro-Caribbean all the way, albeit a highly original and inventive take on the genre. Parker’s She Rote was quickly followed by not one, but two songs from Cuban nueva trova singer/composer Silvio Rodriguez, Aceitunas and El Necio. The gorgeous melodies of both tunes served as a framework for Zenón’s lyrical playing, but each song featured arrangements that ventured far into rhythmic and harmonic territory unimagined in the simple guitar and voice of Rodriguez’s originals.


The band then made a statement of purpose with a Zenón composition called The Chain that explored the African-derived commonalities of music from across the Caribbean: Puerto Rico, Cuba, Jamaica, Dominican Republic, even Honduras & Belize, with Zenón taking a short break from his horn to beat out a solid bomba rhythm alongside de Jesus.  Next up was another original, Hypnotized, a quietly intense and rhythmically subtle piece inspired by the late jazz drummer Paul Motian.

The first set closed by linking Motian to another important percussionist and bandleader, Tito Puente, with an unusual arrangement of his classic Oye Como Va. Fragments of the melody were repeated until they became nearly a chant as Zenón and the Collective nimbly moved back and forth between different time signatures, stopping, starting and sub-dividing the foundation that Puente built the song on.


The second set was more of the same, mixing original compositions with well chosen covers.  After another Parker tribute, the band launched into Yuba #1, based on the bomba drum pattern of the same name, but sounding something like Chicago style free jazz.  Among the originals were Variations on an Afro-Cuban Theme and two songs from Oye!!!, JOSNigeria and Double Edge.  Zenón formed the Rhythm Collective 10 years ago for a U.S. State Department sponsored tour of West Africa.  JOS, inspired by that tour, proved to be one of the most straightforward tunes of the night as de Jesus provided a solid yet understated intimation of Fela Kuti’s signature Afrobeat rhythm, supported by Valentin’s supple bass, leaving room for Zenón to creatively reimagine Fela’s iconic saxophone runs. This segued directly into Double Edge which prominently featured layered and juxtaposed rhythms of remarkable precision, bringing the evening to a spectacular close.

Zenón told me that he’s taking his regular quartet into the studio soon along with a big band to record music from his ambitious Identities: Tales from the Diaspora project. Here’s hoping that the Chicago Jazz Festival or some other organization can find the resources to bring the live version to Chicago sometime soon.


Don Macica is a marketing consultant to the performing arts community and a contributing writer to several online publications including Chicagomusic.org and Arteyvidachicago.com. When not traveling, he lives a stone’s throw from Lake Michigan in Chicago’s Rogers Park neighborhood. He is the author of Border Radio, a blog about music, migration and cultural exchange.

Eddie Palmieri at Pritzker Pavilion – Review by Don Macica

Chicago’s World Music Festival came back in a big way with a spectacular opening night concert featuring Eddie Palmieri and his Salsa Orchestra, an 11 piece juggernaut that pulled out all the stops to drive a crowd of nearly 7000 people absolutely nuts with joy. Gallery 1 – Photos by Scott Pollard.

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If salsa music has an inventor, it’s probably Palmieri. There’s no overstating the importance of his innovations over the past half century, starting with his introduction of dual trombones in the place of typical charanga violins in the early 60s. The punchy, horn driven sound was a perfect match for urbanized Latinos living in New York, something they could call their own, yet harkening back to island roots. Palmieri went on to be a serious piano virtuoso as well, absorbing jazz technique and theory from the likes of Thelonious Monk and McCoy Tyner. Gallery 2 – Photos by www.elíascarmona.com

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If his current orchestra is not the pinnacle of six decades of achievement, it’s damn close.  In Thursday night’s performance, jazz-heads could only shake their heads in wonder and admiration as both the group arrangements and soloists showed a deeply sophisticated understanding of harmony and rhythm. Meanwhile, thousands of others simply danced with unbridled joy at the irresistible Afro-Caribbean rhythms. Palmieri went all the way back to 1940s Cuba for Arsenio Rodríguez’ iconic Dame un Cachito Pa’Huele, and several other classics from Puerto Rico and Cuba found their way into the program, all of which were energized by the heat and skill that the ensemble was throwing down all evening.

Speaking of ‘all evening’, Palmieri’s set was preceded by that of a band that almost single-handedly revived the plena tradition in Puerto Rican popular music. Twenty years on, Plena Libre is still faithfully updating this folkloric tradition for contemporary audiences, augmenting the panderos and guiro with driving horns and sparkling keyboards. While not precisely innovators, Plena Libre remains important in keeping the tradition alive, and their opening set on Thursday was the perfect warm up on a cool fall evening, getting people up and dancing in no time.

September 12, 2013
by Don Macica
Photos by Scott Pollard and Elías Carmona

Don Macica is a marketing consultant to the performing arts community and a contributing writer to several online publications including Chicagomusic.org and Arteyvidachicago.com. When not traveling, he lives a stone’s throw from Lake Michigan in Chicago’s Rogers Park neighborhood. He is the author of Border Radio, a blog about music, migration and cultural exchange.



Novalima Gallery – Old Town School of Folk Music (8/1/13)

Once again Novalima did not disappoint on their 4th visit to Chicago. The show, which lasted almost two hours, kept people on their feet dancing throughout the night. This show was made possible through a co-production between Agúzate, Old Town School of Folk Music and Sound Culture. See you next year when Novalima comes back to the Windy City.

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Help the Project! Get your Alive and Kicking Merchandise

Two Chicago-based companies (Agúzate Productions and Deboka Films) are producing the film titled "Alive and Kicking: La Historia de Chamaco Ramírez". The documentary discovers the lost story of salsa legend Chamaco Ramírez, an unparallelled Puerto Rican improvisational singer who influenced and entire generation of singers but has remained relatively unknown to the general public. Chamaco died of a gunshot wound in the streets of the South Bronx in 1983 and the murder is still unresolved to this day.

Alive and Kicking is directed by Puerto Rican filmmakers Eduardo Cintrón and Omar Torres-Kortright. It is expected to be completed by the end of this year. Visit www.facebook.com/aliveandkickingthemovie to receive the latest news on this exciting project, produced right here in Chicago.

Be a part of the project by ordering your Official Alive and Kicking T-Shirt here:

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468759 Omar Torres T-Shirt, Chamaco Ramirez MOCKUP

Dos compañías con sede en Chicago (Agúzate Productions y Deboka Films) colaboran en la producción "Alive and Kicking: La Historia de Chamaco Ramírez". El documental descubre la historia perdida de Chamaco Ramírez, un sonero improvisador que marcó una época, pero su historia nunca se ha estudiado a fondo desde su misteriosa muerte en las calles del sur del Bronx el 26 de marzo de 1983.

Alive and Kicking es un proyecto de los directores puertorriqueños Eduardo Cintrón y Omar Torres-Kortright. Visite www.facebook.com/aliveandkickingthemovie para recibir las últimas noticias sobre este proyecto.

Puede ordenar su camiseta oficial aquí:

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y ser parte de este proyecto histórico.


August 1, 2013 – Novalima is Back!

Chicago Tour 2011
Chicago Tour 2011

Is that time of the year again! For 3 straight years Agúzate Productions has joined forces with Sound Culture to bring you Novalima, one of the most critically acclaimed Peruvian groups to ever grace the stage. This year we’ve added The Old Town School of Folk Music to the mix, creating a solid partnership to expose a wider Chicago audience to the Afro-Peruvian Electronica phenomenon. Novalima will be playing only one show next Thursday, August 1, 2013 at Old Town School of Folk Music’s 4544 N. Lincoln location. Get your tickets here.

Novalima earned a Latin Grammy nomination for best Latin alternative Album in 2009, and reached number 1 spots on USA CMJ Radio charts, as well as in Canada and European World Music Charts. In 2011, Novalima signed with ESL Music, the label owned by Thievery Corporation, to release “Karimba” its new production, in January 2012.

Juan Medrano Cotito
Juan Medrano Cotito

Karimba brought even wider recognition to this innovative group, while furthering their mission to inspire new generations to appreciate and respect the Afro-Peruvian contribution to the world of music. With a fresh and innovative sound that stands on a centuries-old foundation of soul and heritage, Novalima promises to keep Afro-Peruvian expression thriving long into the future.




Wapa TV Coverage of “Alive and Kicking” – 9 Days to Reach our Goal!

As we approach the final days of our crowdfunding campaign, Wapa TV explores the origins and progress of the documentary “Alive and Kicking: The Story of Chamaco Ramírez”, including interviews with directors Eduardo Cintrón and Omar Torres-Kortright, accompanied by Chamaco Ramírez Jr. Remember we only have 9 days to reach our goal. Become a part of the team that brings this story to the silver screen. Visit our project, make a donation of any amount and receive a cool collector’s item as a reward.

Message from Wanda and Chamaco Jr. Only 12 Days Left!


A message from Wanda and Ramón Luis “Chamaco Jr”. Thirty years after the death of their father, we’re getting closer to making this documentary a reality. Discover the lost story of a salsa legend. Visit our project at www.antrocket.com/aliveandkicking. We have 13 days to reach our crowdfunding goal. Thanks for the support!

The story of Chamaco Ramírez has been a mystery throughout the years. While experts call him “one of the best salsa singers of all time”, his contributions to the genre are largely unknown today. 30 years after his murder, Chamaco is “Alive and Kicking” thanks to a groundbreaking documentary produced by Agúzate. View our trailer and visit our project page here.



Chicago Gives a Warm Welcome to Mima


Last Wednesday, May 15th, 2013 was Mima’s Chicago Debut at the Old Town School of Folk Music. Some fans traveled for hours across state lines to witness this rare intimate performance by one of Puerto Rico’s brightest stars. She received a standing ovation after two 45-minute sets filled with the beautiful melodies and lyrics that have established her as an iconic figure in her native Puerto Rico. We would like to thank Indio, Sobremesa Supper Club and SRBCC for their support of this show co-produced by Agúzate and Old Town School of Folk Music. Check out our picture gallery by Rafael Franco.