Perdomo, 51, is in many ways Zenón’s perfect musical partner. He grew up in Caracas, Venezuela, listening to pianists like Oscar Peterson at first, then going through a salsa phase that had him emulating Eddie Palmieri and the Sonora Ponceña’s Papo Lucca. Perdomo decided to come to New York in the 1990s, and while he was studying at Manhattan School of Music with another Zenón collaborator, the bassist Hans Glawischnig, he met Zenón and quickly realized how talented he was.
“I thought: This guy is amazing! Rhythmically, he was perfect,” Perdomo said in an interview. With Glawischnig and the drummer Adam Cruz, they formed a quartet that played regularly at the old East Village club C Note, not far from Slug’s Saloon and the Five Spot, where Lee Morgan and Eric Dolphy once held sway in the 1960s.
For the New Year’s Eve concert, Zenón and Perdomo reworked their performance of Beny Moré’s classic “Cómo Fue,” which had become a signature live tune, playing it in D flat rather than E flat “because I was listening to a lot of Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn at the time,” Zenón said. They performed “Este Hastío” (“This Weariness”), a song written by the Cuban pianist Meme Solís for the jazz-inspired singer Elena Burke, then covered as “Piensa en Mi” (“Think of Me”) on Ray Barretto’s 1979 salsa masterpiece “Ricanstruction.” They treated “La Vida es Un Sueño” (“Life Is a Dream”), perhaps the Cuban orchestra leader Arsenio Rodríguez’s most famous song, with a kind of poignant reverence, drawing from a previous cover by the Cuban jazz-fusion group Irakere.
One of the most affecting songs on the album is “Qué te Pedí” (“What Did I Ask of You”), made famous by the Cuban singer La Lupe, who spent much of her life in New York. Beginning with a long, swirling Zenón solo, the song evokes the bitter sadness of a failed relationship as longingly as Billie Holiday’s “Good Morning Heartache.”
“We played this with La Lupe in mind,” Zenón recalled. “It’s a kind of gritty, greasy version of bolero,” he said, and it seems more emotional, sadder, like the blues.
Perdomo, whose brief excursion into the Cuban guajira style closes “Que te Pedi,” said he has been struck by the intersections he discovers when playing Latin American boleros through a jazz lens. “Everything comes from African music, but there are some elements that go between different roots. It’s like how flamenco singers sing — it sounds like when B.B. King sings the blues.”