Renowned Saxophonist and Composer Miguel Zenón Releases Música de Las Américas, Inspired by the History of the American Continent

Out August 26, 2022, on Miel Music, Música de Las Américas features all-new music from Zenón for his long-time working quartet plus master percussionists from his native Puerto Rico Album release celebration August 23 – 28 at The Village Vanguard, NYC

This music is inspired by the history of the American continent: not only before European colonization but also by what’s happened since—cause and effect,” says Miguel Zenón of his latest album of all original works, Música de Las Américas. The music grew out of Zenón’s passion for the history of the American continent, and the resulting album pays tribute to its diverse cultures while also challenging modern assumptions about who and what “America” is.


Featuring his longstanding quartet of pianist Luis Perdomo, bassist Hans Glawischnig, and drummer Henry ColeMúsica de Las Américas represents a broadening of scope and ambition for Zenón, who is best known for combining cutting-edge modernism with the folkloric and traditional music of Puerto Rico. In realizing such a wide-ranging project, Zenón engaged the illustrious Puerto Rican ensemble Los Pleneros de La Cresta to contribute their unmistakable plena sound to the album, with additional contributions by master musicians Paoli Mejías on percussion, Daniel Díaz on congas, and Victor Emmanuelli on barril de bomba.


Zenón’s compositions on Música de Las Américas reflect the dynamism and complexity of America’s indigenous cultures, their encounters with European colonists, and the resulting historical implications. Zenón immersed himself in these topics during the pandemic, reading classics like Eduardo Galeano’s Venas Abiertas de América Latina (Open Veins of Latin America: Five Centuries of the Pillage of a Continent), which details Western exploitation of South America’s resources and became the inspiration for Zenón’s “Venas Abiertas.”


Other sources of inspiration include Sebastián Robiou Lamarche’s Taínos y Caribes”, referring to the two major societies who inhabited the Caribbean prior to European colonization and who are the subject of the album’s opener. “They were the two predominant societies but were very different: the Taínos were a more passive agricultural society while the Caribes were warriors who lived for conquest,” says Zenón, who captures the clashing of the societies in the interlocking rhythms of the piece.


Following the thread of indigenous Caribbean societies, “Navegando (Las Estrellas Nos Guían)” pays homage to the seafaring culture that existed across the region. “One thing that blew my mind was how they could travel the sea at long distances just using canoes while being guided by the stars,” says Zenón. “That opens conversations about what’s ‘archaic’ versus what’s ‘advanced’ in terms of scientific achievement between the ‘New World’ and ‘Old World.’”


Zenón referred to the star formations used for navigation by those societies as the musical foundation of the song, which prominently features the percussion and vocals of Los Pleneros de la Cresta, who sing and accompany the titular chorus: “Navegando vengo, sigo a las estrellas.”


Possibly the most challenging piece on the album in its harmonic dissonance and complexity, “Opresión y Revolución” evokes the tension and release of revolutions on the American continent, notably the Haitian Revolution among others. Featuring the percussion of Paoli Mejías matched with the percussive piano work of Perdomo, the piece also reflects the influence of Haitian vodou music, which Zenón was heavily exposed to while working with drummer Ches Smith and his ensemble “We All Break.”


Although for many the term “empire” brings to mind the contemporary Western world, Zenón composed “Imperios” with the various indigenous empires of America in mind, including the Incas, Mayans, and Aztecs. “They were some of the most advanced societies at their time; as a matter of fact, they were in some ways more advanced than what was happening in Europe in terms of contemporary mathematics and astronomy, society and politics,” says Zenón. “There was something there already that was really advanced, and it makes me think about what could have been: what would have come out of that?” The melody derives from Zenón’s transcription of music from a ceremony of Aztec descendants, which is the counterpart to the rhythmic structure of the song.


“Bambula” features percussion virtuoso Victor Emmanuelli, whom Zenón lauds for pushing the musical envelope as a bandleader in his own right. The term “bambula” refers to a dance that was brought over by African slaves to the Americas. Over time, bambula became the rhythm commonly referred to as “habanera,” which is found in much of Latin American music today. Here, Zenón captures the feeling of connection across time and space that is carried by this single rhythmic cell:


“It’s a thread from New Orleans to Brazil to Central America back to Africa, across all these eras from the past to contemporary pop,” says Zenón. “For me, I wanted it to feel like you’re out at the dance, but at the same time hearing this more modern harmony and melody.”


In highlighting these connections across geographical regions, Zenón also returns to a major theme throughout the album: the conception of America not as a country—that is, only referring to the modern United States—but as a continent. “América, el Continente” makes that point clear while reminding listeners of the political implications of the United States assuming ownership of the term “America,” with its subtle erasure of the remaining Western hemisphere.


“Antillano,” named for the residents of the Antilles, showcases what Zenón is best known for: bringing together past and present in a forward-thinking, musically satisfying way. Ending the album on an optimistic note, the piece emulates aspects of contemporary dance music while serving as a feature for Daniel Díaz on congas. Some odd-meter surprises may fly past the ear of a casual listener, but they do so without any interruption to the musical flow so naturally conveyed by Zenón’s quartet.


In confronting often challenging historical topics on Música de Las Américas, Zenón has created a masterwork, whose musical delights will inspire and uplift while spurring a conversation about the problematic power dynamics across the American continent. The premise that modern jazz cannot be both grooving and emotionally resonant to the casual listener while formally and intellectually compelling is patently false, which Zenón proves here as he has time and again throughout his career.


© Adrien Tillmann
~Copyright © 2022 Braithwaite & Katz

Yellowjackets Enter Fifth Decade Sounding as Fresh as Tomorrow on Upcoming Album: Parallel Motion

Parallel Motion is out on CD / Digital on August 26, 2022

Maintaining a distinct group identity for 40 years is an exceedingly rare achievement, but what sets Yellowjackets apart isn’t their longevity so much as the consistently inspired quality of their music. Born in the age of fusion, the band has thrived through the decades by steadily seeking out new sounds and approaches, combining elliptical lyricism with a sophisticated and evolving harmonic palette all their own. Slated for release on August 26, Parallel Motion is Yellowjackets’ sixth album for Mack Avenue Records and it captures a vibrant creative communion that shows no signs of an impending midlife crisis.
Since Yellowjackets’ eponymous 1981 debut album, the group has hewed its own creative path, influencing colleagues with enviable compositional craftsmanship and an ever-shifting blend of influences. In many ways Yellowjackets embody both continuity and renewal, with founding­ pianist/keyboardist Russell Ferrante providing the four-decade thread first joined by Will Kennedy­, who took over the drum chair from 1987-99 and returned to the fold in 2010. Bob Mintzer, a Jacket since 1990, contributes on tenor and soprano saxophones and EWI. By the band’s standards Australian-born electric bass virtuoso Dane Alderson is still the new kid, though he’s already anchored the quartet for seven years. Parallel Motion is a Technicolor portrait of a working band that’s still stretching its wings.
“The last two projects were collaborations,” Ferrante said, referring to 2018’s luminous Raising Our Voice with extraordinary Brazilian vocalist Luciana Souza, and 2020’s orchestral Jackets XL with the WDR Big Band of Cologne, Germany. “We wanted to do a project focusing on the quartet. In terms of the material, we wanted to broaden the contributions from everyone. Dane is represented by several tunes. Will is in the mix. Everybody’s involved in every aspect.”
While Yellowjackets recorded the album in the midst of the pandemic, the music looks forward rather than exploring the angst and isolation that accompanied the advent of COVID-19. Of course, resilience and optimism in the face of tragedy is in itself a profound statement. For Mintzer, the new work “represents the commitment to stay together and keep moving forward. It’s really about this four-cornered square that functions no matter what. With each record, all four of us are on the hunt for new ways to put the notes together. The music keeps growing. The focus is this band. A clear, identifiable sound. Four equal parts.”
Indeed, every Jacket is well represented on Parallel Motion. The album opens with Mintzer’s “Intrigue,” a lithe but stutter-stepping tune that offers a little surprise around every shifting groove. Lyrical and street smart, the piece showcases all four players at their most responsive. “There’s a singable component, but these little splashes of dissonance,” Mintzer said. “It doesn’t fit into any categories, which is one of the M.O.s of this band.”
Ferrante’s passionate “Il Mio Amico” is a heartfelt ode written in response to his recently acquired Fazioli piano. It’s a spectacular instrument “and the resonance and overtones and response you get is really inspiring,” he said. “We brought it to the studio and used it on the recording, the first workout it got, and as the title says, it’s really my new friend.”
Alderson’s slyly grooving “Early” grew out of a sketch that had been languishing on his laptop for more than a decade. “I brought it to the band and the guys brought it to life,” he said. “It’s a jammy party tune with an R&B flavor that really evolved in the studio.”
Kennedy transformed a tune originally written with vocals into the ravishing “Samaritan,” a piece that expands on Yellowjackets’ long history of singable lines. “The goal was to have a melody that was simple and warm and I think we achieved that,” Kennedy said. “It’s a really calm and relaxing sort of song. As Dane was saying, it’s always an interesting adventure to present a tune to the band and have it take on a life of its own.”
If Parallel Motion offers a snapshot of a band in mid-flight, it’s also a family portrait that includes Ferrante’s “If You Believe,” a track featuring the supremely soulful vocalist Jean Baylor. No stranger to Jackets fans, she’s recorded with the group several times, and of course her husband, drummer Marcus Baylor, was a member of Yellowjackets from 2000-2010. Her gospel-steeped performance adds another incandescent track to Yellowjackets’ deep roster of vocal collaborations, a list that includes Bobby McFerrin, Kurt Elling, Bobby Caldwell, Randy Crawford, Brenda Russell, Michael Franks, Gino Vannelli, Jonathan Butler and Luciana Souza.
Recorded after a brief European tour, the album documents the process of discovery. “We rehearsed the tunes on the album maybe three times,” Alderson said. “I believe we’re only now on this tour performing these songs live, so what you’re hearing are about as fresh as they can be. Everything really came to life in the studio in those three days.”

Parallel Motion — the new album from jazz fusion legends Yellowjackets — is a true testament to the longevity and resilience of a band that debuted over 40 years ago. Consistently reinventing themselves through elevated instrumentation in their signature electro-acoustic soundscape, the current lineup consists of Bob Mintzer (tenor & soprano saxophone/EWI), Russell Ferrante (piano/keyboards), Will Kennedy (drums, keyboards), and Dane Alderson (electric bass, MIDI Sequencing) showcases a collective at their prime. This album features 9 new original compositions and guest vocalist Jean Baylor (4x GRAMMY® Award Nominee of the Baylor Project and R&B duo Zhané) on “If You Believe.” ~Mack Avenue Music Group

At your leisure, check the single “INTRIGUE” by the Yellowjackets.


[NOTEWORTHY] – Tales of Time is the calling car to versatile drummer/composer Greg Germann’s relentless chops and composing skills

New York-based drummer/composer Greg Germann has spent the better part of the last 2 decades touring the world with Broadway shows and then making his mark as a Telly Award-winning film composer, utilizing his background in classical percussion and jazz to guide his hand. With encouragement from an important mentor, drummer Clarence Penn, Greg turned his attention to documenting a collection of his wide-ranging compositions for the modern jazz quartet.

With Penn producing, they pulled together a group of supreme improvisers including saxophonist Donny McCaslin, pianist Luis Perdomo and bassist Yasushi Nakamura to tackle Germann’s rhythmically expansive & melodically rich works. Recorded in November of 2020, the compositions present a dynamic view of life during the Covid-19 pandemic.

From the relentless post-bop opener, ‘Rush Hour,’ to the reflective ‘Quarantine,’ Tales of Time is Germann’s calling card for jazz fans worldwide. ~Editorial Review | Amazon

Originally Released: March 12, 2021

At your leisure, spin “TALES OF TIME” by Greg Germann

Reading Group is thrilled to introduce the debut LP featuring a improvising group of three singular artists Fred Moten, Brandon López, Gerald Cleaver

Reading Group is thrilled to introduce the debut LP from a new improvising group of three singular artists: Fred Moten (voice), Brandon López (double bass), and Gerald Cleaver (drums). López and Cleaver have been improvising together as a duo for a number of years, over which they’ve developed a secret, unspoken language of organically growing repetitive figures in a wide range of sonic palettes. López and Cleaver have long been recognized as some of the most vital voices in contemporary experimental improvised music, each with dozens of recordings and frequent performances in New York and abroad. They are joined here by Fred Moten, the inimitable poet, theorist, critic, and 2020 MacArthur Fellow. Moten’s presence, voicing poetry in an improvisatory syncopation with the instrumentalists, raises the music to the third plane, putting the record in a broader collection of legendary spoken-word jazz records from Gil Scott-Heron and Amiri Baraka to the contemporary energies of Moor Mother and Irreversible Entanglements.

Recorded at GSI Studios in Manhattan at the height of the pandemic and in the immediate wake of the George Floyd Rebellion, this self-titled LP represents only the first time the trio had improvised together in a studio setting, after a one-off performance at the 2019 Vision Festival. The record is a shimmering image of the lightning that resulted in the meeting of these three minds. The dark timbres and churning pulses stay at a perpetually restrained simmer, only seldom disturbing the rolling surface of the record’s seven pieces. This constant interplay between the music’s turbulent growth and the momentary flashes of bright aliveness is reflected brilliantly in the original painting by artist/writer Renee Gladman that graces the record’s cover. A mysterious, vital work from three brilliant artists. ~Bandcamp

Released Date: April 14, 2022

‘Agua de Jamaica’ is the first collaborative project between producer, multi-instrumentalist, composer, and arranger Sylvester Uzoma Onyejiaka II AKA Sly5thAve and pianist and composer Roberto Verástegui.

Agua de Jamaica’ is the first collaborative project between producer, multi-instrumentalist, composer, and arranger Sylvester Uzoma Onyejiaka II AKA Sly5thAve and pianist and composer Roberto Verástegui. The pair originally met whilst studying Jazz in Texas and began piecing together the release on Sly5thAve’s first visit to Mexico, over a drink of Agua de Jamaica – a drink made with water, hibiscus flower, and sugar. Recorded during the lockdown in Mexico, the LP is built from a passionate and comprehensive understanding of Jazz, a love of Hip Hop, and Mexico City’s ever-vibrant artistic culture, Latin flavors, and the African roots from which these sounds grew.

Epitomizing this fusion of sounds and collaborative talents on the introductory single “Tie Break”, Sly5thAve reworks a track originally written as a big band chart for the Orquesta Nacional de Jazz de Mexico by Roberto. Beginning with the original lead sheet, laced with nods to Funk and Hip Hop, the pair improvised a Jazz reworking before taking it home to layer synths, piano, and beats. With a constant backbeat and harmonic pattern courtesy of Sly5thAve, Roberto’s Hammond organ takes the experimental Jazz center stage.

At the heart of ‘Agua de Jamaica’ is the title track; the moment Sly5thAve and Roberto realized they had something to pursue. Thought of by both Sly5thAve and Roberto as the fullest collaboration on the release, “Agua de Jamaica” considers the constant artistic and cultural exchange between the US and Mexico, despite the political differences. It draws the listener in with a Hip Hop loop intertwined with hypnotic vocals from local artist Silvana Estrada; “she has a voice, unlike anything I’ve ever heard. She has the ability to effortlessly float between genres”, Sly5thAve adds.

Having moved to Mexico City at the beginning of 2020, Sly5thAve stayed with Roberto and his wife Yuki during the first Covid-19 lockdown; outtakes of their time together BBQing can be heard on the serendipitous “Empeño (lil’ bop)” if you listen closely. This time allowed for the pair to build on their ideas and explorations of different sounds and places centered around Jazz. Their combined voice, emotions, and way of working are perfectly presented in the Afrobeat-inspired “La Tormenta”. “I stayed up all night working it out and it came together last minute,” Sly5thAve recalls. “After we had finished recording everything we went back in and started to piece it all together like a Hip Hop record. Thinking about how it all came together, “La Tormenta” (or “The Thunderstorm” in English) made the most sense”. This energy carries through to the interweaving melodies of the Modern Jazz-inspired “The Wanderer” – built from unused demos of a Jazz album Sly5thAve had been working on – and onto the improvised big, tough city vibes of “Past Thoughts”. “We decided to improvise over some Jazz changes that get played pretty often, but with an ‘IN YOUR FACE’ edge”, Roberto says, highlighting the freely played nature of the Jazz tune which peaks with the perfected communication between the rhythm section and Sly5thAve’s sax sound. ~Bandcamp

Released: March 25, 2022

Trailblazing UK jazz renegade, saxophonist Sean Khan delivers his scintillating new album ‘Supreme Love: a Journey Through Coltrane’ on BBE Music

Trailblazing UK jazz renegade, saxophonist Sean Khan delivers his scintillating new album ‘Supreme Love: a Journey Through Coltrane’ on BBE Music.

“Who is John Coltrane for me?” asks Khan. “He is man, legend, myth, storyteller, sage, and atmosphere. My road and journey have been rocky one, and like most on this journey, I have carved a path full of mistakes and triumphs. However, throughout my life, Coltrane’s music has been a constant.

Weaving together disparate strands of the UK music scene (jazz, dance, broken beat, and electronic) together onto one record, Supreme Love is presented in three parts: autobiography, homage, and encyclopedia.

A pioneer of the Broken Beat movement early in the new millennium, working with Omar, Bugz in the Attic and 4hero among others, Khan enlisted the input of two old friends, Kaidi Tatham and Daz I Kue, who each contribute a future-minded yet reverential sense of originality to the album.

Also featured on Supreme Love are two legends of UK jazz, Peter King and Jim Mullen, both of whom bring a rich and palpable sense of history to the project. Guitarist Jim Mullen has played with Brian Auger, toured with the Average White Band, and recorded with Terry Callier over his long career. Mullen was also a regular fixture at Ronnie Scott’s, as was saxophonist Peter King, who actually performed at the club’s opening night, as well as working with two of Coltrane’s favorite drummers, Philly Joe Jones, and Elvin Jones. Sadly Peter King’s contribution to ‘Supreme Love’ would be his last recording session, and he passed away in August 2020.

Also featured among a talented and diverse group of performers on the album is Cinematic Orchestra front-woman Heidi Vogel, who adds her distinctive, soulful voice to Khan’s, and Coltrane’s, heartfelt lyrics.

I have always been a strange prisoner to my ambition,” says Seanand most of my recordings bear testimony to this, with this record being the next part of that evolution. I made a conscious effort to represent all of Coltrane’s main artistic periods from hard bop (with Miles Davis), to sheets of sound (Giant Steps, Moments Notice), spiritual jazz (Love Supreme), and finally his last, most experimental and cosmic period (Interstellar Space). I have never heard a record that attempts to reflect all of the great man’s epochs in this way and use the recording artist’s autobiography (my own) as a conduit to these ends, and so here I am, for better or for worse.~Bandcamp all rights reserved


Original Release DateNovember 19, 2021


At your leisure, check out the ambitious “SUPREME LOVE: A JOURNEY THROUGH COLTRANE” by Sean Khan

Saxophonist-composer Alison Shearer’s debut album View From Above transports listener’s between time and space

Saxophonist Alison Shearer’s debut album makes a statement. A statement about loss, and struggle, and the restorative power of music. Written soon after the passing of her father, famed photojournalist John Shearer, “View From Above” transports the listener to that liminal space between sky and earth, where the light shimmers and mundane matters seem small and far away.

Alison’s music is a study in contrasts: jagged, kaleidoscopic rhythms are paired with soaring, lyrical melodies, and the rich timbres of saxophone, flute, cello, and voice are paired with electric guitar and bass, synthesizers, Rhodes, and drum set. The music is textural, integrating shifting contours and metric modulations yet it remains groovy and aesthetically pleasing. ~Bandcamp

Alison Shearer – alto saxophone
Kevin Bernstein – piano, Rhodes, synthesizers
Marty Kenney – electric bass
Horace Phillips – drumset
Wayne Tucker – trumpet
Susan Mandel – cello
Miranda Joan – vocals
Hattie Simon – vocals
Jonathan Hoard – vocals
Vuyo Sotashe – vocals
Chauncey Matthews – vocals

All songs were written by Alison Shearer

@all rights reserved

Original Release Date: February 18, 2022

At your leisure, check out “VIEW FROM ABOVE” by Alison Shearer


AJE’S BEST JAZZ RELEASES, 2021 in alphabetical order…

Aakash Mittal, NOCTURNE



Amaro Freita, BAQUAQUA


Andrew Cyrille Quartet, THE NEWS

Archie Shepp, Jason Moran, LEY MY PEOPLE GO

Arnan Raz, 7 DAYS


Arturo O’Farrill, …DREAMING IN LIONS…

Belmondo Quintet, BROTHERHOOD

Ben Tiberio, RARE PEACE

Benoît Delbecq, ANAMORPHOSES



Cassie Kinoshi SEED Ensemble, BALLETBOYZ: BRADLEY 4:18



Damon Locks Black Monument Ensemble, NOW

Dave Holland, ANOTHER LAND


David Tixier Trio, BECAUSE I CARE

DeAndre Lettsome, IMPETUS

Dr. Lonnie Smith, BREATHE

Edward Simon, SOLO LIVE


Enrico Rava, ROMA

Florian Arbenz, CONVERSATION #1



Gretchen Parlato, FLOR


Irreversible Entanglements, OPEN THE GATES

Jaimie Branch, FLY OR DIE LIVE


James Francies, PUREST FORM

James Brandon Lewis, CODE OF BEING




Joe Lovano & Dave Douglas Sound Prints, OTHER WORLDS


John Pope Quintet, THE RIGHT-HAND PATH


Kazemde George, I INSIST

Keith Brown Trio, African RIPPLES


Kurt Elling w/guitarist Charlie Hunter, SUPERBLUE


Lionel Loueke, CLOSE YOUR EYES

Magnus Lindgren, BIRD LIVES


Malcolm Jiyane Tree-O, UMDALI


Mareike Wiening, FUTURE MEMORIES

Marques Carroll, THE ANCESTOR’S CALL


Matthew Shipp, CODEBREAKER

Menagerie, MANY WORLDS

Michael Mayo, BONES






Pat Metheny, SIDE-EYE NYC (V1. IV)


Remy Le Boeuf’s Assembly of Shadows, ARCHITECTURE OF STORMS

Roberto Olzer Trio, NOTTURNO

Sebastian Noelle, SYSTEM ONE

Shai Maestro, HUMAN

Simone Blasioli, CONVERSATION


Tamill Rogeon, SON OF NYX

Terence Blanchard, ABSENCE

The Baylor Project, GENERATIONS


Thommy Andersson, WOOD CIRCLES

Timothee Robert, QUARKS

Victor Gould, In Our Time

Vijay Iyer, UNEASY


William Parker, TABASCO

*Playlist coming soon to Spotify

[NOTEWORTHY]… Chicago-based sound & visual artist Damon Locks unmask Where Future Unfolds a transformative masterpiece

Where Future Unfolds is a new work spirited by Chicago-based sound & visual artist Damon Locks. Starting as a solo sound collage piece (where Locks pulled samples from Civil Rights era speeches and recordings to create an improvisational pallet for performance on his drum machine), over 4 years the project has blossomed into a 15-piece Black Monument Ensemble featuring musicians (including Angel Bat Dawid on clarinets and Dana Hall on drums), dancers (members of Chicago youth dance company Move Me Soul), and singers (alumni of the Chicago Children’s Choir).

Alive capture of the ensemble’s epic debut at the Garfield Park Botanical Conservatory on the West Side of Chicago, Where Future Unfolds recalls the spirits of Phil Cohran’s Artistic Heritage Ensemble, Eddie Gale’s Ghetto Music, Archie Shepp’s Attica Blues, and Public Enemy It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back in an inspired & utterly immediate contemporary intersection of the gospel, jazz, activism & 808 breaks. ~Editorial Reviews | Amazon

Original Release Date: April 20, 2019

At your leisure, listen to “WHERE FUTURE UNFOLDS” by Damon Locks

Vocalist-composer Sara Serpa collaborates with Nigerian author Emmanuel Iduma on a stunning new album offering musical insight into the journeys and experiences of migrants, refugees, and displaced people

Intimate Strangers, due out December 3, 2021, via Biophilia Records, features vocalists Serpa, Aubrey Johnson, and Sofía Rei with pianist Matt Mitchell and synth player Qasim Naqvi, creating vivid soundscapes for stories from Iduma’s book A Stranger’s Pose

There’s no better way to connect with the humanity of a stranger than to hear their stories and to share our own. On their poignant and striking new collaboration, Intimate Strangers, the extraordinary vocalist-composer Sara Serpa and the Nigerian writer Emmanuel Iduma traverse the African continent, sharing the author’s personal journey and collecting the tales of fellow travelers and migrants he meets along the way. Through Iduma’s insightful text and Serpa’s transcendent music, the lens widens to explore the struggles and emotions experienced by anyone who’s left their roots behind to seek the uncertain promise of a distant horizon.


Due out December 3, 2021, on Biophilia RecordsIntimate Strangers draws from Iduma’s 2018 book A Stranger’s Pose, which recounts the writer’s travels through more than a dozen African cities, combining travelogue, memoir, and meditations on migration and displacement. The album also continues a narrative that Serpa began with her 2020 release Recognition: Music For a Silent Film, which grappled with the legacy of Portuguese colonialism in Africa via her own family’s history. Intimate Strangers is, in a way, the mirror image of that project, gazing back at colonial powers from the vantage point of Africa itself.


There were a lot of stories in Emmanuel’s book that really resonated with me,Serpa explains. “While Recognition dealt with my country’s past relationships with Africa, I felt like his book presents a much-needed perspective of what borders actually mean. Through his travels and encounters with so many people just trying to cross into Europe, Emmanuel raises all these questions about traveling, migrating, and leaving your home behind.”


Commissioned by John ZornIntimate Strangers premiered at Brooklyn’s National Sawdust in November 2018 as a multi-media performance combining Serpa’s music, Iduma’s narration, and photographs from the author’s book. In recorded form, Intimate Strangers remains evocative, conjuring mental images in the listener’s mind as vivid as that projected footage. It helps that Serpa gathered a stellar collection of musicians able to craft such bold imaginary landscapes: she is joined by fellow vocalists Sofía Rei and Aubrey Johnson (Rei is a bandmate from Zorn’s a cappella quartet Mycale; Johnson has been a collaborator since attending NEC with Serpa), along with pianist Matt Mitchell (Tim Berne, Dave Douglas) and modular synth player Qasim Naqvi (Dawn of Midi).


Iduma writes in the liner notes that “My collaborative performance with Sara brought me closer to understanding how words worked in a pre-literate time, when writing was yet to be invented – when stories were passed from mouth to mouth, from memory to memory… Sara’s composition distills A Stranger’s Pose to its essential groove and vital ballad.”


“I am always inspired by Emmanuel’s insight and his writing,” adds Serpa. “We share a very deep mutual respect for each other’s work. Of course, we come from different backgrounds, but we share the same concerns regarding humanity and hospitality. So we thought a lot about how to combine our art to convey this message and honor both our skillsets.”


The two were further bonded by shared grief, as both lost their fathers within a few months of each other. José Luis Serpa, who passed away just three days after the premiere of Intimate Strangers, provided the vibrant collage that graces the album’s cover art.


The album is itself a journey, beginning with Iduma’s self-reflections and continuing close to home with encounters in Nigeria. It soon ventures farther, over the Moroccan border and through the desert in Bamako, Mali. In the Senegalese town of Kidira, the writer is reminded of his relatively privileged status when a passport means a world of difference between him and the unnamed stranger whose life briefly becomes linked to his own. The Morocco-based Cameroonian poet Onesiphore Nemberecites a piece in French, about things left behind – a mellifluous echo of past colonialism.


At the journey’s end, we cast our eyes back to its beginning. “For You, I Must Become a Tree” poetically conveys the reflection of the migrant on the loves and home from which they’ve embarked, now far away but always heart-achingly close. “In the mind of the traveler, those who love you don’t want you to go. So that person has to become a tree, which means having your roots in one place [with branches reaching far away].”


Serpa weaves a mesmerizing sonic tapestry from the sparse instrumentation and especially the stunning vocal harmonies, which serve at times as gorgeous atmosphere, at others as ethereal storytellers, still others as a lush Greek chorus. “The main character is always Emmanuel,” Serpa describes. “The singing voices are sometimes spirits, sometimes ghosts, sometimes witnesses and sometimes joining him as narrators.”


While Intimate Strangers tells Iduma’s story, and those he gathered along the road, it is no less personal a piece for Serpa. “As a migrant myself,” she says, “albeit a privileged migrant, I recognize the feeling of being a foreigner and a bit of an outsider. As a European and someone who has been following the news of the world’s various refugee crises, I feel that the book offers a human, crucial and urgent side to the stories that continuously happen at every border. That’s what attracted me to it.”


Sara Serpa
Lisbon, Portugal native Sara Serpa is a vocalist-composer and improviser who implements a unique instrumental approach to her vocal style. Recognized for her distinctive wordless singing, Serpa has been immersed in the field of jazz, improvised and experimental music since first arriving in New York in 2008. Described by the New York Times as “a singer of silvery poise and cosmopolitan outlook,” and by JazzTimes magazine as “a master of wordless landscapes,” Serpa started her career with jazz luminaries such as Grammy-nominated pianist Danilo Perez, and Guggenheim and MacArthur Fellow pianist Ran Blake. As a leader, she has produced and released ten albums. The latest is Recognition, an interdisciplinary project that combines film with live music in collaboration with Zeena Parkins, Mark Turner, and David Virelles. Serpa was voted  #1 Vocalist of the Year by the 2020 NPR Music Jazz Critics PollMusician of the Year 2020 by Portuguese magazine and Female Vocalist-Rising Star 2019 by the DownBeat Magazine Critics Poll. She has collaborated with Ingrid Laubrock, Erik Friedlander, John Zorn, Nicole Mitchell, André Matos, Guillermo Klein, Linda May Han Oh, Ben Street, and Kris Davis, among many others. Serpa currently teaches at The New School, New Jersey City University, and is Artist-In-Residence at Park Avenue Armory. She is the recipient of Chamber Music America New Jazz Works Grant 2019, New Music USA 2019,New York City’s Women’s Fund 2020, USArtists Grant from Mid-Atlantic Foundation for the Arts, and the 2021 Herb Alpert/Ragdale Prize in Composition. Serpa has been active in gender equity in music and is the co-founder (along with fellow musician Jen Shyu) of Mutual Mentorship for Musicians (M³)an organization created to empower and elevate women and non-binary musicians.


Emmanuel Iduma
Emmanuel Iduma is the author of A Stranger’s Pose, a book of travel stories that was longlisted for the RSL Ondaatje Prize. His essays and art criticism have been published in The New York Review of Books, Aperture, Artforum, and Art in America. His honors include a Creative Capital/Warhol Foundation grant for arts writing, the inaugural Irving Sandler Award for New Voices in Art Criticism from AICA-USA, the C/O Berlin Talent Prize for Theory, and a Silvers Grant for Work in Progress.I Am Still with You, his memoir on the aftermath of the Nigerian civil war, is forthcoming from Algonquin (US), and William Collins (UK).

Sara Serpa / Emmanuel Iduma – Intimate Strangers
Biophilia Records – BREP0026 – Recorded Oct-Dec, 2020
Release date December 3, 2021