Miguel Zenón

Over the course of his distinguished recording career, Miguel Zenón has frequently drawn inspiration from the folk traditions of his native Puerto Rico. On his new album, Sonero, out August 30 on the Miel Music label, he channels the late salsa pioneer Ismael Rivera—a little-known artist in the United States but revered elsewhere.

“He’s always been one of my heroes,” says the 42-year-old alto saxophonist, who grew up in San Juan. “He’s kind of like this mythical figure in Puerto Rico and other parts of Latin America.”

On a muggy afternoon in mid-June, Zenón discussed some of the other musicians who have influenced him—including Wayne Shorter, Brad Mehldau, and Danilo Pérez— in his first Before & After at his apartment in the Hudson Heights section of Manhattan.

1. Fabian Almazan Trio

“Benjamin” (This Land Abounds With Life, Biophilia). Almazan, piano; Linda May Han Oh, bass; Henry Cole, drums. Recorded in 2018.

BEFORE: It sounds really familiar—the playing, the way it’s put together, the sound of it. A first guess would be Fabian Almazan and his trio—because of the sound of the trio, and because I can recognize the drummer. We use the same drummer. And also because of the tightness of the arrangement. Super-talented guy. I have to admire what he’s doing, not only musically, but the way he’s handling his label. He has this mission toward dealing with the environment and all that stuff.

He has a very specific way of playing, too. That’s

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