El País Invisible

Miguel Zenón composer and alto saxophone
José A. Zayas Cabán soprano saxophone
Ryan Smith tenor saxophone
Casey Rafn piano

Release Date: July 8, 2022
Catalog #: NV6395S1
Format: Digital
21st Century

EL PAÍS INVISIBLE “happened by accident,” says composer Miguel Zenón, like it was “almost meant to be.” Serendipitously, the project developed when Zenón was wrestling with critical questions about Puerto Rico’s status as a nation, a culture, and an identity. He had recently read the work of Puerto Rican novelist Eduardo Lalo, who remarked that Puerto Rico was an invisible country that “exists in this limbo” between Latin America and the United States “without really being connected to one place or the other.”

With this tension in mind, Zenón drew from La Borinqeña, Puerto Rico’s national anthem, which was originally in a musical form called a danza. Rather than directly quote the anthem, however, he modified it to reflect on Puerto Rico’s status as a colony in the United States empire. Its melodic elements guided his approach in “[transmitting] a specific color, a texture that was a little denser or a little darker harmonically.”

The piece begins with staggered, contrapuntal entrances by the saxophones and piano, playing a deconstructed version of La Borinqeña’s opening motive, called the paseo. Following a series of held, dissonant chords in the piano, the group gathers intensity and moves into a staccato section with low, repeated open-fifth intervals in the piano. Over these open fifths, the piano and saxophones trade both lyrical and pointillistic phrases, finally softening to a dissonant, held chord.

After a short pause, the piece returns to the opening deconstructed La Borinqueña melody. Following, the soprano saxophone plays a chromatic solo, ascending and descending as if in search of something too elusive to grasp. The tenor saxophone joins in a duet. After a held, dissonant chord, the alto saxophone plays a jazz solo, with the soprano and tenor saxophones occasionally joining and interjecting. At the end of the solo, the ensemble plays insistent, held octaves, as the piano plays arpeggio-like, ascending, dissonant intervals.

The group quiets into a tense section, the soprano and tenor saxophones playing repeated pitches an octave apart. The piano then drops out for a duet between the soprano and tenor saxophones featuring running, chromatic figures. As the piano and alto saxophone join back in, the group builds energy into another staccato section, with low, open-fifth intervals in the piano. After a chromatic, ascending flourish in the piano, they return one final time to the opening motive. They then play a series of insistent, loud dissonant chords. Then, the group quiets, fading in dissonance.


Hear the full album on YouTube

Track Listing & Credits

# Title Composer Performer
01 El País Invisible Miguel Zenón Miguel Zenón, alto saxophone; José A. Zayas Cabán, soprano saxophone; Ryan Smith, tenor saxophone; Casey Rafn, piano 11:52

Recorded March 11-12, 2021 at Wild Sound Recording Studio in Minneapolis MN
Session Producer & Engineer Steve Kaul

Executive Producer Bob Lord

Management Jeff LeRoy, Janet Giovanniello, Tim Finley

Executive A&R Sam Renshaw
A&R Director Brandon MacNeil
A&R Danielle Lewis

VP of Production Jan Košulič
Audio Director Lucas Paquette

VP, Design & Marketing Brett Picknell
Art Director Ryan Harrison
Design Edward A. Fleming
Publicity Patrick Niland, Aidan Curran

Artist Information

José Antonio Zayas Cabán


A Grammy-nominated artist and McKnight Fellow, José A. Zayas Cabán has presented performances and taught master classes throughout Europe, the Caribbean, and North America. A native Puerto Rican (born and raised in Mayagüez PR) and musician activist, José now resides in Minneapolis MN and is building an artistic career focused on developing projects, albums, and collaborations that address, respond, and raise awareness about current events and social issues.

Miguel Zenón

Composer, Saxophonist

Multiple GRAMMY nominee and Guggenheim and MacArthur Fellow Miguel Zenón represents a select group of musicians who have masterfully balanced and blended the often contradictory poles of innovation and tradition. Widely considered as one of the most groundbreaking and influential saxophonists of his generation, he has also developed a unique voice as a composer and as a conceptualist, concentrating his efforts on perfecting a fine mix between Latin American Folkloric Music and Jazz.

Born and raised in San Juan, Puerto Rico, Zenón has released 12 recordings as a leader, including the GRAMMY-nominated Sonero: The Music of Ismael Rivera (2019), Yo Soy La Tradición (2018) and Típico (2017). As a sideman he has worked with jazz luminaries such as The SFJAZZ Collective, Charlie Haden, Fred Hersch, Kenny Werner, David Sánchez, Danilo Perez, The Village Vanguard Orchestra, Kurt Elling, Guillermo Klein & Los Guachos, The Jeff Ballard Trio, Antonio Sanchez, David Gilmore, Paoli Mejías, Brian Lynch, Jason Lindner, Miles Okazaki, Ray Barreto, Andy Montañez, Jerry Gonzalez & The Fort Apache Band, The Mingus Big Band, Bobby Hutcherson, and Steve Coleman.

Zenón has been featured in publications such as The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Los Angeles Times, The Boston Globe, and The Chicago Tribune. In addition, he topped both the Jazz Artist of the Year and Alto Saxophonist categories on the 2014 Jazz Times Critics Poll and was selected as the Alto Saxophonist of the Year by the Jazz Journalist Association in 2015, 2018, 2019 and 2020 (when he was also recognized as Arranger of The Year).

As a composer he has been commissioned by SFJAZZ, NYO Jazz, The New York State Council for the Arts, Chamber Music America, Logan Center for The Arts, The Hyde Park Jazz Festival, The John Simon Guggenheim Foundation, MIT, Jazz Reach, Peak Performances, PRISM Quartet, and many of his peers. Zenón has given hundreds of lectures and master classes at institutions all over the world and is a permanent faculty member at The New England Conservatory, The Manhattan School of Music, and serves as the current Artist-In Residence for the Zuckerman Institute at Columbia University. In 2011 he founded Caravana Cultural, a program which presents free-of-charge jazz concerts in rural areas of Puerto Rico.

In April 2008, Zenón received a fellowship from the prestigious John Simon Guggenheim Foundation. Later that year he was one of 25 distinguished individuals chosen to receive the coveted MacArthur Fellowship, also known as the “Genius Grant.”

For more info: www.miguelzenon.com

Ryan Smith


Multiple woodwind specialist Ryan Smith is drawn to music across the spectrum of genres, regularly performing throughout the Midwest with symphony orchestras, chamber ensembles, jazz combos, pit orchestras, and rock bands. As an international performer, he has toured in São Paulo, Rome, and Milan with the Américo Project and given concerts in Hong Kong and China with the Iowa Saxophone Ensemble. Smith serves as Artistic Director of HTLIC Media, an Iowa City music and arts nonprofit organization that supports the creation and performance of original works by Iowa artists with socially relevant content.

Most recently in that role, he organized and directed the performance of Esteban and the Children of the Sun at the Englert Theater in Iowa City. This mixed-media, multi-genre collaboration tells the story of the first African explorer of North America, Estevanico (Esteban the Moor), who was brought to the New World as a slave in the 16th century. Smith holds Doctorate of Musical Arts and Master of Music in Jazz Studies degrees from the University of Iowa. He teaches applied woodwinds and improvisation at Grinnell College, Cornell College, and St. Ambrose University.

Casey Rafn

Casey Rafn


Minneapolis-based pianist Casey Rafn enjoys a varied career both in the United States and abroad. As a collaborative pianist, he has performed at venues in Latin America, New York City, Canada, and across the United States. He has performed with the Minnesota Orchestra and VocalEssence, and can often be found as a chamber musician with members of the Minnesota Orchestra, Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra, or faculty from the University of Minnesota.

He is a member of the saxophone-piano trio {Trés}, which performs in both Puerto Rico and the continental United States. Apart from his collaborative work, he enjoys solo playing, having taken top prizes at the International Liszt-Garrison Competition in Baltimore, as well as appearing as a soloist with Duluth-Superior Symphony Orchestra. He is currently on staff at the University of Minnesota School of Music, Lundstrum Performing Arts, and St. Paul Conservatory for Performing Artists.