NPR : Fresh Air

Filed Under:

Miguel Zenon And Laurent Coq Play 'Hopscotch'

Play associated audio

The new quartet album by alto saxophonist Miguel Zenón and pianist Laurent Coq is called Rayuela, which means "hopscotch." It's named for Julio Cortázar's novel, the fragmented tale of a wandering bohemian and his social circles in Parisian exile, as well as back home in Buenos Aires. Those settings make it a good fit for a collaboration between composers from France and Spanish-speaking America: The book is expansive, smart, breezy, romantic and sometimes like a disturbing dream, and the music lands on all those squares.

Julio Cortázar devised an original form for Rayuela, giving you two ways to read the novel. You can go straight through to chapter 56 and then stop — that takes you about three-fifths of the way. Or you can follow a wandering trail he lays out through all 155 chapters; it has you flipping back and forth between the front and back of the book, before ending in a loop. The result gives you a sense of dislocation which parallels that of his expat hero. Back when I read Rayuela, all that to-ing and fro-ing reminded me of a stride pianist's left hand shuttling up and down the keyboard. It's jazzy on the face of it, and gives musicians who riff on the concept plenty of room to move.

Most of the compositions Miguel Zenón and Laurent Coq wrote for their album Rayuela are inspired by the novel's characters or episodes, but they also confront its form. The alternative ordering of the book's chapters suggests an analogy with playing music on shuffle, and the album's packaging quietly suggests at least a couple more ways to sequence its tracks. Getting way down in the weeds, Zenón set to music every letter in one paragraph-length chapter, following complex formulas. Another of his pieces is a kind of mobile, with a set of themes the soloists can choose from and go back to as they see fit. They spontaneously re-order the material.

The other players in this quartet reinforce the bi-continental flavor. Dana Leong plays new-world jazzy trombone and Euro-romantic cello, though he does a lot of genre-bending on either. Dan Weiss plays the drum set and North India's hand drums, the tabla. Out of their usual context, they're a marker of dislocation.

Some jazz and blues lyrics sneak into Cortázar's novel, where his characters occasionally listen to and argue over old records. So it's fair turnabout for improvisers to look to the novel for ideas. Curious artists are always looking beyond their own backyard; that's often what prompts them to leave home in the first place, and keep going. France's Laurent Coq and Puerto Rico's Miguel Zenón know each other from New York, that city of outsiders who become insiders, without forgetting every hop that got them there.

Copyright 2012 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

NPR

Credibility Concerns Overshadow Release Of Gay Talese's New Book

NPR's Kelly McEvers speaks with Paul Farhi of the Washington Post about Gay Talese's new book, The Voyeur's Hotel. The credibility of the book, which follows a self-proclaimed sex researcher who bought a hotel to spy on his guests through ventilator windows, has been called into question after Farhi uncovered problems with Talese's story.
NPR

Amid Craft Brewery Boom, Some Worry About A Bubble — But Most Just Fear Foam

Fueled by customers' unquenchable thirst for the next great flavor note, the craft beer industry has exploded like a poorly fermented bottle of home brew.
NPR

White House Documents Number Of Civilians Killed In U.S. Drone Strikes

The Obama administration issued a long awaited report Friday, documenting the number on civilians who have been accidentally killed by U.S. drone strikes. Human rights activists welcome the administration's newfound transparency, though some question whether the report goes far enough.
NPR

Tesla 'Autopilot' Crash Raises Concerns About Self-Driving Cars

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is investigating a fatal crash involving a Tesla car using the "autopilot" feature. NPR's Robert Siegel talks to Alex Davies of Wired about the crash and what it means for self-driving car technology.

Leave a Comment

Help keep the conversation civil. Please refer to our Terms of Use and Code of Conduct before posting your comments.