Romance al Campesino Porteño

Sivuca composer
Rafael Hernández composer
Miguel Zenón composer, alto saxophone
Astor Piazzolla composer
Rafael Hernández composer
Roberto Cole composer

José A. Zayas Cabán soprano saxophone
Ryan Smith tenor saxophone
Casey Rafn piano

Release Date: May 26, 2023
Catalog #: NV6516
Format: Digital
20th Century
21st Century

Navona Records is proud to present ROMANCE AL CAMPESINO PORTEÑO, an album threading saxophonist José Antonio Zayas Cabán’s childhood memories with music both old and new. The tunes of his childhood and his culture sonically surround a newly-composed piece, the GRAMMY®-nominated El País Invisible, that addresses Puerto Rico’s political status as a commonwealth of the United States Empire. Featuring Miguel Zenón, Ryan Smith, Casey Rafn, and Zayas Cabán himself, ROMANCE AL CAMPESINO PORTEÑO explores the textures of Puerto Rico and Latin America, and the sounds of both struggle and celebration.

“ROMANCE AL CAMPESINO PORTEÑO is an artful scream into the void of forgetting,” says essayist Katheryn Lawson. “We hope you will listen. We hope you will remember.”


Hear the full album on YouTube

Track Listing & Credits

# Title Composer Performer
01 Um Tom para Jobim Sivuca, arr. Mitchell Toebben Casey Rafn, piano; Ryan Smith, tenor saxophone; José A. Zayas Cabán, soprano saxophone; Miguel Zenón, alto saxophone 4:44
02 Preciosa Rafael Hernández, arr. Mitchell Toebben Casey Rafn, piano; Ryan Smith, tenor saxophone; José A. Zayas Cabán, soprano saxophone; Miguel Zenón, alto saxophone 4:26
03 El País Invisible Miguel Zenón Casey Rafn, piano; Ryan Smith, tenor saxophone; José A. Zayas Cabán, soprano saxophone; Miguel Zenón, alto saxophone 11:52
04 Estaciones Porteñas: I. Primavera Astor Piazzolla, arr. Mitchell Toebben Casey Rafn, piano; Ryan Smith, tenor saxophone; José A. Zayas Cabán, soprano saxophone; Miguel Zenón, alto saxophone 5:58
05 Estaciones Porteñas: II. Verano Astor Piazzolla, arr. Mitchell Toebben Casey Rafn, piano; Ryan Smith, tenor saxophone; José A. Zayas Cabán, soprano saxophone; Miguel Zenón, alto saxophone 7:36
06 Estaciones Porteñas: III. Otoño Astor Piazzolla, arr. Mitchell Toebben Casey Rafn, piano; Ryan Smith, tenor saxophone; José A. Zayas Cabán, soprano saxophone; Miguel Zenón, alto saxophone 7:37
07 Estaciones Porteñas: IV. Invierno Astor Piazzolla, arr. Mitchell Toebben Casey Rafn, piano; Ryan Smith, tenor saxophone; José A. Zayas Cabán, soprano saxophone; Miguel Zenón, alto saxophone 7:37
08 Los Carreteros Rafael Hernández, arr. Mitchell Toebben Casey Rafn, piano; Ryan Smith, tenor saxophone; José A. Zayas Cabán, soprano saxophone; Miguel Zenón, alto saxophone 3:27
09 Romance del Campesino Roberto Cole, arr. Mitchell Toebben Casey Rafn, piano; Ryan Smith, tenor saxophone; José A. Zayas Cabán, soprano saxophone; Miguel Zenón, alto saxophone 3:51

Recorded March 11-12, 2021 at Wild Sound Recording Studio in Minneapolis MN
Producer & Engineer Steve Kaul, José A. Zayas Cabán

Executive Producer Bob Lord

A&R Director Brandon MacNeil
A&R Jacob Smith

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

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, Alto Saxophone

“This young musician and composer is at once reestablishing the artistic, cultural, and social tradition of jazz while creating an entirely new jazz language for the 21st century.”
— MacArthur Foundation, 2008.

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 and composers of his generation, he has also developed a unique voice as a conceptualist, concentrating his efforts on perfecting a fine mix between jazz and his many musical influences.

Born and raised in San Juan PR, Zenón has built a distinguished career as a leader, releasing 15 albums under his own name. In addition, he has crafted his artistic identity by dividing his time equally between working with older jazz masters and the music’s younger innovators — irrespective of styles and genres. The list of musicians Zenón has toured and/or recorded with includes 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, Brian Lynch, Joey Calderazzo, Steve Coleman, Ray Barreto, Andy Montañez, Jerry Gonzalez & The Fort Apache Band, The Mingus Big Band, and Bobby Hutcherson.

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, Spektral Quartet, The Hewlett Foundation, Peak Performances, PRISM Quartet, and many of his peers.

Zenón has been featured in articles on publications such as The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Los Angeles Times, The Chicago Tribune, Revista Milenio, Bloomberg Pursuits, Jazz Times, Jazziz, Boston Globe, Billboard, Jazz Inside, Newsday, and Details. In addition he topped both the Jazz Artist of the Year and Alto Saxophonist of the Year 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).

Zenón has given hundreds of lectures and master classes and has taught all over the world, at institutions which include The Banff Centre, Berklee College of Music, Siena Jazz, Universidad Veracruzana, Conservatorium Van Amsterdam, Musik Akademie Basel, Conservatoire de Paris, Georgia State University, Conservatorio de Música de Puerto Rico, San Francisco Conservatory of Music, Columbia University, Princeton University, The Kimmel Center, UMass-Amherst, and UCLA. He is also a permanent faculty member at New England Conservatory and The Manhattan School of Music. But perhaps what best reflects his commitment to education and cements his growing reputation as a “cultural ambassador” is a program that he founded in 2011 called Caravana Cultural.

The main purpose of Caravana Cultural is to present free-of-charge jazz concerts in rural areas of Puerto Rico. The program makes a “cultural investment” in the island by giving these communities a chance to listen to jazz of the highest caliber (Zenón invites some of the best musicians in the New York jazz scene to perform as guests), while at the same time getting young Puerto Rican musicians actively involved in the concert activities. Since February 2011, Zenón has presented a concert every four to six months. Each concert focuses on the music of a specific jazz legend (Charlie Parker, Miles Davis, Duke Ellington, among others) and is preceded by a pre-concert presentation which touches on the basic elements of jazz and improvisation.

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.” In 2022 he received an Honorary Doctorate from La Universidad del Sagrado Corazón in San Juan PR, the highest honor bestowed by the institution.

Zenón lives in New York City with his wife Elga and their daughter. For more info:

Ryan Smith

Tenor Saxophone

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 Doctor 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.

Mitchell Toebben


Mitchell Toebben is an arranger and composer from Columbia MO. He studied music at Truman State University in Kirksville MO, focusing primarily on composition and theory, in addition to jazz and the saxophone. While there, he was also active in its chapter of Phi Mu Alpha Sinfonia. He has always been interested in many different styles of music, with experience writing and performing in the classical tradition, jazz, Latin American music, electronic music, musical theater, and others. Another area of interest has been mathematically-oriented music theory in general and especially geometrical approaches to set theory, which essentially means mapping out all the types of harmonies (or any collections of pitches) to investigate how they are structurally related to each other. Although he has written for various small and large ensembles, many of his arrangements have featured saxophones, given his background playing the instrument and his longtime collaboration with fellow saxophonist José Zayas Cabán.

Katheryn Lawson


Katheryn Lawson is a Ph.D. candidate in History, currently writing her dissertation on Black Philadelphians, pet keeping, and animal care. She has been previously published on Girl Scout music and bird calls in children’s song collections, while more recent digital essays include Pet Keeping and Pet Hiding in Black America and The Little-Known History of Cat Litter. She holds bachelor’s degrees in Music Performance (trumpet) and English, and Master’s degrees in historical musicology, library and information science, and History. She works full-time as an archivist.



from left: Casey Rafn, Ryan Smith, José A. Zayas Cabán, Miguel Zenón

The empire thrives on forgetting.

Schoolchildren in the United States are raised on the great victories of the American Revolution, when their country threw off the evil colonial shackles of Great Britain. And yet they know little about the United States’ own colonizing ventures. Forgotten is the United States’ occupation of the world’s oldest colony, Puerto Rico, since 1898 (see Luna Martinez’s article for the Center for Constitutional Rights). Since 1952, it has been a Commonwealth, but even the drafter of Puerto Rico’s Constitution, José Trías Monge, saw the “new” arrangement for what it was: a colony wrapped in constitutional clothing.

The Invisible Colony
By Daniel Immerwahr

Most presidents, once elected to the highest office, choose to stay there. Since 1900 there have been only three who didn’t run for a final term. Perhaps most surprising was Harry Truman, one of the most consequential of all presidents. In office, he’d dropped the only nuclear weapons ever used in warfare, ended the Second World War, and started the Cold War. The fate of millions hung in Truman’s hands.And Truman’s fate, for a brief second, hung in the hands of a man named Griselio Torresola. On November 1, 1950, Torresola traveled with his fellow Puerto Rican nationalist Oscar Collazo to Washington DC to kill the president. He came astonishingly close. Torresola and Collazo managed to shoot a police officer and two Secret Service agents and Torresola would likely have gotten a shot at Truman, too, had a dying police officer not managed to shoot the would-be assassin in the head. Truman had overseen a vast military that killed millions in war, yet the sight of death on his doorstep rattled him. When Truman declined to run for re-election, this assassination attempt was the event he cited as the reason.

What had motivated the assassins? Though the press dismissed them as unhinged lunatics, they weren’t. Their attack was the mainland portion of a large revolt in Puerto Rico, in which more than a hundred armed independence-seekers led by the nationalist Pedro Albizu Campos staged attacks in seven places at once, seizing and destroying government buildings. For Oscar Collazo, one of the assassins in Washington, this was a chance to draw attention to the United States’ brutal colonial treatment of Puerto Rico. “How little the American people know of Puerto Rico!” Collazo exclaimed in frustration at his trial. “They don’t know Puerto Rico is a possession of the United States, even though it has been so for the last 52 years.”

Collazo was right. Puerto Ricans had been under the U.S. flag since 1898, when the United States entered a war that Spain was fighting against its colonial subjects. Though it fought alongside the rebels against the Spanish Empire, the United States ended the war not by stepping back to celebrate the end of Spanish rule in the Caribbean and the Pacific, but to step in and take three of Spain’s colonies itself: Puerto Rico, the Philippines, and Guam. Along with the non-Spanish lands of Hawai‘i and American Samoa, which the United States annexed at the same time, it had claimed for itself a formidable empire, containing millions. But, as Collazo pointed out, it has been an empire that’s been hard for U.S. mainlanders to acknowledge or even see.

Other empires haven’t been like this. The sprawling British Empire had a holiday, Empire Day, celebrated on Queen Victoria’s birthday, to honor the imperial reach of the British crown’s rule. The holiday became official in 1916, and it involved parades, hymns, and school children dressed in national costume from all the colonies. Coincidentally, the United States also had a similar patriotic holiday, celebrated first in the schools and then becoming official in 1916, in the same year as Empire Day did. But the U.S. version, Flag Day, was a chance for people to “gather together united in demonstration of their feeling as a Nation” and show that “America is indivisible,” as President Woodrow Wilson put it. It was an occasion to celebrate the unity of the mainland, in other words. Whereas British schoolchildren were made to gaze reverently at the world map, with all Britain’s extensive possessions shown, schoolchildren on the U.S. mainland rarely saw maps that included places like Puerto Rico. On Flag Day, they were told to venerate the flag, which has one star for every state but no representation for the territories.

Puerto Ricans had their own holiday to celebrate. Through 1952, Puerto Ricans were to hold July 25th sacred as “Occupation Day,” a day to honor the first landing of U.S. troops on the island. It was a bizarre and painful holiday, underscoring Puerto Rico’s continued colonial subjugation. It’s hard to imagine a country freely choosing to rejoice in the day when a foreign colonizer arrived onshore. Occupation Day lives on as Puerto Rico Constitution Day, a holiday celebrating the day when the 1952 constitution went into effect.
And what of that constitution? According to Puerto Rico’s governor, Luis Muñoz Marín, the new constitution erased “all traces of colonialism.” But the lawyer who drafted the document, José Trías Monge, believed that Puerto Rico remained a colony. He had a point. Though the new constitution committed Puerto Rico to democracy, it didn’t commit the United States to the same. Puerto Rico remains an unincorporated territory of the United States—it is governed by the United States but has no effective representation in Congress, lacks a say in who becomes president, and is not fully covered by the provisions of the U.S. Constitution. In all three branches of the U.S. government, Puerto Rico is disenfranchised or subordinated. Unsurprisingly, Puerto Rico is also poorer, in terms of per capita GDP, than the poorest state in the union.

In 2017, a spate of devastating hurricanes struck Texas, Florida, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Federal aid, charitable giving, and U.S. news coverage swarmed to Texas and Florida, despite the fact that the Caribbean colonies, already impoverished, were in a much more dire spot. We now know more about private conversations in the White House at the time. President Donald Trump insisted that not one dollar of disaster aid go to Puerto Rico, and he inquired about selling the colony off, like one of his bankrupted casinos, in its time of need.

It’s impossible to imagine Iowa, Oregon, or Georgia receiving such treatment. But Puerto Rico has never been accorded the same status as such places. After the 2017 hurricanes, a poll of mainlanders found that only a slight majority knew that Puerto Ricans were U.S. citizens and that barely more than a third of adults under thirty did. More than 120 years on, it remains, from the places of power, an invisible colony.

Miguel Zenón and Daniel Immerwahr see Puerto Rico as invisible. Many mainland Americans, after all, are not even aware that Puerto Rico is a colony whose people are denied congressional representation and presidential voting rights. Holding on to that land provides the United States various military and strategic advantages. As Todd Miller writes in Empire of Borders, Puerto Rico functions as an additional border, where customs and an active military base exert power beyond U.S. shores, or what Immerwahr terms the “logo map.” From destroying Puerto Rico’s agrarian economy for industrial development (thanks to Operation Bootstrap of the 1940s and 1950s, and 1970s-era tax breaks for U.S. manufacturers), to then abandoning those business ventures (after President Bill Clinton ended the tax break 20 years later), to treating Puerto Ricans’ suffering as an opportunity for disaster capitalists, it is clear that the island has been little more than a financial, governmental, and military playground for the United States. (see and and and and and

Taking much and giving little in return, the United States is an empire that has tried to hide its colonies from historical memory. Like whiteness, much of its power lies in denying its very existence (see NMAAHC’s guide to whiteness). The brutality of colonialism is not some far-off anomaly Americans can wave away as the problem of England, France, Belgium, the Netherlands, and countless others. No, colonization is at our feet, at our government’s hands. The first step to changing this exploitative relationship is to remember. Hold onto historical and recent memory, and never let go.

For José Antonio Zayas Cabán, the structure of the United States’ colonialism is like being submerged underwater. Plunged beneath the surface, in hopes of forgetting. In his short lifetime, he has experienced and witnessed the United States’ shamefully inadequate support for Puerto Rico after natural disasters. Until 1999, Cabán grew up on the island, living through Hurricane George (1996) firsthand. Decades later, watching from the mainland, he witnessed the devastation Hurricanes Irma and María (2017) brought to the island. While Puerto Rico struggled without electricity for nearly a year, as his friends and family suffered under substandard living conditions, U.S. news outlets moved on to the next big story. His memories of Hurricane George bubbled up to the surface, and he knew that he and his music could stay silent on Puerto Rico’s colonization no longer.

Like all the best stories, ROMANCE AL CAMPESINO PORTEÑO weaves together individual, collective, and historical memory. Growing up in Mayagüez, Puerto Rico, Cabán spent many happy days in his grandmother’s San Juan home. There, he basked in the melodies of Latin music and wandered the streets of her neighborhood, called Urbanización Las Américas (the Americas) in search of groceries, the pharmacy, or adventure. All the streets of Las Américas were named after capital cities, a kind of homing that has persisted for José, long after his family moved to the mainland.

ROMANCE AL CAMPESINO PORTEÑO threads Cabán’s childhood memories of walking the capital streets of Urbanización Las Américas with music both old and new. The tunes of his childhood and his culture enfold around a newly-composed piece that addresses Puerto Rico’s present-day concerns. We invite you to explore, like a child taking in the textures of a bright and vast world, the sounds of struggle and celebration. Each piece takes you to a different city, like the streets of Las Américas.

The journey begins in Rio de Janeiro, the capital of Brazil, where composer, accordionist, and guitarist Sivuca once lived. Um Tom para Jobim, an homage to the great bossa nova composer, starts slowly, thoughtfully, allowing listeners to ease into this new place, and then pulls them into a festival with a peppy, unforgettable tune. Next, we venture to Aguadilla PR, the birthplace of the great Puerto Rican composer Rafael Hernández. Preciosa, hailed as the second national anthem of Puerto Rico, professes its love to the composer’s beloved island, its beauty and agrarian way of life. We then travel to the capital city of San Juan, where Miguel Zenón modifies Puerto Rico’s official national anthem, La Borinqueña, in order to reflect on Puerto Rico’s colonial status in the U.S. empire. The album’s central piece, El País Invisible, invites you to stop, mourn, and think. What has been lost in Puerto Rico’s colonization? And what can be regained?

The journey continues to Buenos Aires, Argentina, where composer Ástor Piazzolla spent his final days. With Estaciones Porteñas, listeners can step off the road and dip into the four seasons of Buenos Aires. After resting in the deep slumber of winter, Los Carreteros invites listeners to “Awake, awake” again in Aguadilla. Finally, we end in Cabán’s hometown of Mayagüez, with Roberto Cole’s Romance del Campesino, a lively guaracha celebrating Puerto Rico’s beauty and the fulfilling life of the peasant class.

ROMANCE AL CAMPESINO PORTEÑO is an artful scream into the void of forgetting. We hope you will listen. We hope you will remember. You cannot say, now, that you did not know.

The album opens with a short piece by Brazilian composer Sivuca (Severino Dias de Oliveira, 1930–2006), which translates to “A Song for Jobim,” after famous bossa nova musician Antônio Carlos Jobim (1927–94). Sivuca’s song was released on the 1993 album Pau Doido and adapted the bossa nova style of the 1950s, characterized by a repeating syncopated rhythmic pattern, another instrument playing supporting chords, and a melody on top.

Trés’s arrangement begins with a new, slow, contemplative introduction. The piano (Casey Rafn) trades a few bars with the alto saxophone’s (Miguel Zenón) improvised, cadenza-like motives. Following a pause, the soprano saxophone brings in Sivuca’s fast introduction. The piano takes on the percussion and chordal parts, while the soprano (José Antonio Zayas Cabán) and tenor saxophones (Ryan Smith) play the melody in octaves.

Then, we arrive at the core melody of the piece, a continuous chromatic melody in the soprano saxophone. After the introductory motive returns, the alto takes an improvised solo that both embraces and strays from the original melody. Following, the wandering core melody returns. Recalling the beginning of the track, the alto saxophone closes the piece with a short flourish, accompanied only by piano.

– Katheryn Lawson

Preciosa (1935) is one of Puerto Rican composer Rafael Hernández’s (1892–1965) most famous songs. The song and poem are often regarded as Puerto Rico’s unofficial national anthem. Preciosa is a coming-home on multiple levels for Cabán, as he spent a great deal of time visiting his family in Aguadilla, their and Hernández’s hometown. After working in the music industry for decades—including playing in Black bandleader James Reese Europe’s (1881–1919) 369th Infantry “Hellfighters” Jazz Band—Hernández composed Preciosa about his beloved Puerto Rico while residing in Mexico. The song is in the form of a bolero, a slow, syncopated Spanish love song that originated in eastern Cuba. Precios” is, indeed, a love song about Puerto Rico—specifically, Borinquen, the native Taino term for the island—that celebrates its combined heritage of Spanish, Taino, and African traditions. In addition to celebrating the country’s natural beauty, the lyrics speak to Puerto Rico’s glory in spite of its colonial status: “Preciosa serás sin bandera / Sin lauros, ni gloria / Oh, te llaman los hijos de la libertad / Preciosa, te llevo dentro / Muy dentro di mi corazón,” which translates to “Precious you will be without a flag / No laurels, no glory /Oh, the sons of liberty call on you/ Precious, I carry you inside / Deep inside my heart.”

The piece opens with the piano playing slow jazz chords. After a pause, it re-enters with a quick motive of call-and-response between right and left hands, and then rolls a diminished chord, inviting the soprano saxophone to enter. The soprano begins, slow and cadenza-like, with occasional interjections from the alto saxophone. The song then picks up, and the entire ensemble joins in for the main syncopated theme. The alto saxophone then takes up the main theme alone, accompanied by piano, expressing the poem’s amorous lyrics with added flourishes. The tune ends with the whole ensemble taking up the tune.

– Katheryn Lawson

In El País Invisible, San Juan-born Miguel Zenón (b. 1976) wrestles with critical questions about Puerto Rico’s status as a nation, a culture, and an identity. Drawing on Puerto Rican novelist Eduardo Lalo’s description that Puerto Rico was an invisible country, Zenón turned first to La Borinqeña, Puerto Rico’s national anthem. Rather than directly quote La Borinqeña, he modified it to reflect on Puerto Rico’s status as a colony in the U.S. empire.

The piece begins with staggered, contrapuntal entrances by the saxophones and piano, playing a deconstructed version of La Borinqeña’s opening motive. 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 pointed phrases, finally softening to a dissonant held chord.

After a short pause, the introduction returns. Following, the soprano saxophone plays a chromatic, wandering solo. 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 dissonant arpeggios.

The group then 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 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 flourish in the piano, they return one final time to the opening, followed by a series of insistent, dissonant chords. Then, the group quiets, fading in dissonance.

– Katheryn Lawson

You could say Argentinian composer Ástor Piazzolla (1921–1992) pointed Cabán on the road back home. After years of playing standard European saxophone repertoire, discouraged from exploring music by Latin American composers, Cabán’s sense of Puerto Rican heritage was reawakened when he encountered the music of Piazzolla, who trained in Europe and then turned to composing the tangos of his homeland. Piazzolla’s New Tango style, however, was not danceable, given to its dissonance, and even his use of fugues. Yet they also reference the Old Tango of years gone by, the kind of music Cabán’s grandmother liked to dance to. When Cabán hears Piazzolla, he remembers his grandmother dancing to the tangos of Carlos Gardel.

Estaciones Porteñas, translated to “The Four Seasons of Buenos Aires,” references Baroque composer Antonio Vivaldi’s (1678–1741) “The Four Seasons,” and was originally composed for violin (viola), piano, electric guitar, double bass, and bandoneón, a type of concertina, or small accordion, commonly played in tango ensembles. Each movement has a main theme for the season, which alternates with solo sections.

Movement one, “Primavera,” or Spring, begins with the soprano saxophone playing a jumping, chromatic tango theme that broadly ascends and then descends, accompanied by piano. The rest of the ensemble joins in for the lively, syncopated tango, often trading off short chromatic motives, and alternatingly joining together in octaves. After a pause, the tenor saxophone plays a lyrical solo, followed by the soprano saxophone taking the movement’s slower theme. They then return to the faster tango, first in unison and then in a contrapuntal texture. Following a solo by the alto saxophone, the ensemble speeds up to play the tango one last time.

“Verano,” Summer, begins with a chromatic, syncopated tango on the piano. The group then takes on the Summer theme, followed by slow solos in the soprano and tenor saxophones. Following, the entire ensemble joins, speeding up and returning to the main theme, which twists and turns like the wind. The alto then embarks on an improvised cadenza, followed by the slower motive traded among the winds. After a pause, they hold extended dissonant chords, then take on the theme again, slowly at first, and then increasing in speed. A descending glissando in the piano punctuates the final chord.

“Otoño,” Autumn, opens with an improvised alto saxophone solo that both honors and extends beyond Piazzolla’s New Tango. Following, the rest of the winds join in with the movement’s chromatic theme, atop which the soprano saxophone plays high flourishes. The tenor takes a solo, playing with both pitch and speed. At a low point, the piano joins in with low bass notes, and the two embark on a slow, chromatic duet. Suddenly, the piano ascends, and the winds join in to reprise the fast, winding theme. The alto saxophone then takes up the slower solo, and after a brief pause, the group returns to the quick and lively theme. They end on a final, punctuated chord.

“Invierno,” Winter, begins with the winds in octaves, slowly, and low, as if waking from a winter slumber. After a pause, the piano takes a solo that begins with searching, chromatic runs up and down the keyboard, and then plays the moving winter theme. Suddenly, the winds enter with a chromatic, descending motive, and the piano leaps in with high, insistent octaves. After descending, the group slows again, and the tenor takes the theme, followed by the soprano saxophone, and finally the ensemble in octaves. The piano then rushes to play high octaves again, and the winds push forward insistently, building to the theme in the soprano saxophone. The alto launches into an improvised solo, and after a pause, the winds join in with a choral-like section with Baroque-like trills, and then closes on a major chord, as if settling in slumber.

– Katheryn Lawson

During Trés’s 2017–2018 tour, the group focused on the music of Rafael Hernández. Of that set, they have continued to play Los Carreteros (The Cart Drivers, ca. 1931). Like Preciosa, Los Carreteros celebrates Puerto Rico’s beautiful agricultural life. The song opens with the words “Amanece, amanece,” or “Dawn, dawn,” and speaks of the dew drying on grass, the flowers waking, and drinking coffee. It ends with the words, “Qué lindo es cuando amanece / Y que linda es la mañana. / Dios te bendiga mil veces / ¡Oh, mi tierra borincana!,” translated as “how beautiful it is when dawn/ And how beautiful is the morning. / God bless you a thousand times / Oh my borincana land!” Trés’s arrangement begins with a short piano introduction, followed by the ensemble playing the main melody, softly and sweetly, while the soprano saxophone plays a decorated descant over the top. Following, the alto saxophone embarks on an improvised jazz solo, while the rest of the instruments comp underneath with a syncopated rhythm. Then, the group speeds up and joins together in a new, lively tune, before finally slowing, as if dozing off to sleep.

– Katheryn Lawson

Trés ends this musical journey with representation from Cabán’s hometown of Mayagüez, Roberto Cole (1915–1983). Born to a Puerto Rican mother and an American father, Cole studied harmony and counterpoint, composing multiple boleros and other pieces as a teenager. Romance del Campesino (1932), translated as “Framer’s Romance,” is a guaracha, an up-tempo Cuban musical form historically featuring a rogue as its main character and for working-class entertainment. The song was Cole’s first successful piece internationally and was recorded more than a decade later by Daniel Santos (1945). The song was commonplace on the radio and television and remains a recognizable melody for islanders. Cole’s legacy lives on in Puerto Rico today: September 7 has been celebrated as Roberto Cole Day in Puerto Rico since 1999. Like Hernández’s songs, Cole’s “Romance” is a nostalgic celebration of Puerto Rico’s beautiful scenes and agricultural lifeways. The song celebrates the peasant class, or the port-city denizens of the porteño, beginning its final refrain with the words “No hay otra tierra como mi tierra / de ricas mieles y buen café, por eso siempre mi vida entera / en mi bohío yo viviré,” translated as “There’s no other land like my land / with delicious honeys and good coffee / this is why forever my whole life / I’ll live it in my bohío,” a small, round thatched-roof hut that could sleep 8–10 Taíno people.

After a piano introduction, the soprano saxophone takes the melody of the tune, while the others accompany and answer at the end of each phrase. After the alto saxophone takes the refrain, the melody returns to the soprano, and at the end, the alto adds improvised flourishes. The song ends with a slow ascending motive, capped by a short embellishment.

– Katheryn Lawson