Miguel Zenon And Vijay Iyer On JazzSet

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Miguel Zenon Quartet performs at Newport Jazz.

Miguel Zenon Quartet performs at Newport Jazz. Wiqan Ang hide caption

itoggle caption Wiqan Ang

High honors keep coming for these two creative artists. In June, the Jazz Journalists Association named Vijay Iyer the 2010 Musician of the Year. And Miguel Zenon followed his Guggenheim Fellowship in 2008 by being named a MacArthur Fellow. He's used that financial support to realize music of his dreams.

Zenon's Esta Plena is a study in jazz and plena, the traditional music of Puerto Rico. Each selection represents a location.

"Villa Cooperativa is a neighborhood in the town of Carolina, where I spent some teenage years," Zenon writes in an email. "The whole song is dealing with a rhythmic ratio of three against two. The three in this case is represented by a 12/8 Afro groove, and two is represented by a 4/4 Plena groove."

Yes, this band can count. It's hard to believe that drummer Eric Doob is a sub who answered a last-minute call to come to Newport.

The closer, "'Villa Palmeras,' "is a sub-barrio of Santurce," Zenon writes. "The plena style from Santurce is notoriously more aggressive and faster in pace when compared to the other important areas like Ponce and Mayageuz" in Puerto Rico.

Viyay Iyer Trio performs at Newport Jazz.

Viyay Iyer Trio performs at Newport Jazz. Wiqan Ang hide caption

itoggle caption Wiqan Ang

I reached Vijay Iyer at the airport, heading for Zagreb, with plans for the flight.

"I'm reading Robin Kelley's book on Monk," Iyer says.

That would be Thelonious Monk: The Life and Times of an American Original by Robin D. G. Kelley.

"It's so inspiring," Iyer says. "I've been thinking about Monk constantly. [The book] digs in deep from page one, [and in] the opening two pages, he drops this kind of bomb that's incredible. You start with that."

You can hear how Iyer connects with the axis from Duke Ellington to Monk to Randy Weston. He's notably effective on the Weston end of the piano (the bottom), and there's more to it than hands on the keyboard (as if that weren't essential).

Weston's "overall lifelong project of connection with his African heritage, and stressing that through the piano deeply inspired me to pursue something analogous with Indian music," Iyer says.

Credits: Mix in Surround Sound by Antonio Oliart, WGBH Radio, Boston.

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