Roberto Fonseca – Yo (2013)

Share this:

A tireless promoter of Cuban music, Havana-born pianist/composer Roberto Fonseca has worked to increase awareness of the bountiful tradition of Cuban folk and jazz music through his touring with the celebrated Buena Vista Social Club, as well as mingling the music with music forms from other cultures, such as African, Indian, Brazilian, and good ol’ American jazz. Accordingly, his albums tend to advance his ambassadorship for Cuban music, and incidentally the music of other Third World cultures. His great strength is to present these vintage styles in a way that feels modern but retains its authenticity.

And that describes the appeal of Yo, finally set for release stateside though it’s been out in Europe since last year. Evidently, listening audiences across the pond have a greater affinity for the sounds of the Caribbean and Sub-Sahara, but if anyone should be able to get American audiences to go for the stuff, well Mr. Fonseca should.

Yo, by the way, isn’t meant to be the word of the “Yo, Adrian!” variety. To Fonseca and other Spanish speakers, it means “me” or “I.” This signals an intent for the artist to present a more accurate picture of his true musical personality. If so, it just goes to show how incredibly diverse and in-tune Fonseca is to music both ancient and contemporary, because Yo sweeps across both worlds as if there are no distinctions between the two.

This time, Fonseca’s “contemporary” and First World side comes into full display, but at the expense of his traditional and Third World side, and the resulting music is vivid, lively and especially exotic. It comes in the form of a spare arrangement that shapes “Bibisa,” which is full of life with only Fonseca’s piano, Sekou Kouate’s kora and Baba Sissoko’s n’goni — along with some backing vocals — with Fonseca able to be forceful and rhythmically commanding using only a small cluster of notes. More West African melding with jazz comes with “Gnawa Stop,” an occasion for Fonseca to illustrate the African lineage of Cuban music. “7 Rayos” also employs a kora, a one-chord groove with an exotic mixture of jazz piano trio and Afro pop, Cuban percussion and Cuban poetry recited by Nicolas Guillen.

As much as Fonseca can’t shake his Afro-Cuban roots, neither can he shake the jazz, either. “El Sonador Esta Cansado” is basically a piano trio but bolstered by a background Rhodes and alluring Afro Cuban rhythm; Fonseca shows off some nice piano chops in the process. The solemn soulful ballad, “Asies La Vida,” is lightly accented by strings, and Fonseca’s piano is angular and passionate and even funky, revealing his understanding of the subtle genius of Ahmad Jamal.

Current music trends are represented, too: “80’s” sounds like a Cuban party song, with galloping percussion, Caribbean electric guitar and a muscular electric bass. “Chabani” is fueled by tricky, modern rhythms with Cuban accents and Fonseca’s frisky piano. “Minegra Ave Maria” is organic drum ‘n’ bass that features Mike Ladd’s spoken word (in English this time) and background gospel vocals bolster the emotion built up by both Ladd and Fonseca. The program (not counting remixes of “Bibisa” and “80’s”) ends with an uber-cool electronica danceable strain “Rachel,” an irresistible nu-jazz groove mated to Fonseca’s Herbie Hancock inspired Rhodes.

It’s one thing to be diverse in your musical vocabulary, it’s quite another to know just what to do with that knowledge. Roberto Fonseca has it all figured out.

‘Yo’ is poised for American release August 27 by the Concord Music Group. Visit Roberto Fonseca’s website for more info.

S. Victor Aaron

S. Victor Aaron

S. Victor Aaron is an SQL demon for a Fortune 100 company by day, music opinion-maker at night. His musings are strewn out across the interwebs on jazz.com, AllAboutJazz.com, a football discussion board and some inchoate customer reviews of records from the late 1990s on Amazon under a pseudonym that will never be revealed. E-mail him at svaaron@somethingelsereviews .com or follow him on Twitter at https://twitter.com/SVictorAaron
S. Victor Aaron
Share this:
Close