Roberto Fonseca blends the sounds of past and present into dynamic Afro-Cuban jazz | Concert Preview | Chicago Reader

Roberto Fonseca blends the sounds of past and present into dynamic Afro-Cuban jazz 

click to enlarge Roberto Fonseca

Roberto Fonseca

Alejandro Azcuy

I had a chance to see Roberto Fonseca play at the 2015 Fes Festival of World Sacred Music in Morocco, in a duo collaboration with Malian singer Fatoumata Diawara. In his thrilling, visceral performance, the Havana-born musician, composer, and bandleader embodied the multifarious musicality of Cuba’s best jazz pianists. Blessed with access to the island’s customary classical music training, which often begins in elementary school, Fonseca began playing jazz festivals at age 15 and later obtained a master’s in composition from Havana’s prestigious Instituto Superior de Arte. He’s well-versed in Cuban folkloric styles such as rumba as well as its dance genres, including mambo, timba, and reggaeton. His heady, masterful compositions are enlivened by his musical prowess, his precision, and his ability to create unendingly varied ripples of notes. He accompanies his playing with wordless vocals and chants, influenced by his mother, Mercedes Cortes Alfaro, a renowned bolero singer who was once a dancer at the legendary Tropicana Club in Havana. Fonseca is currently on tour supporting his ninth solo album, Yesun (Mack Avenue), whose title blends the names of two Yoruban deities: Yemaya, the goddess of the sea, fertility, and maternity, and Oxun, the god of the river. Throughout Yesun, his pieces transition from one style to another, flowing freely in a kaleidoscope of progressive, dynamic Cuban musical forms; as he put it in a 2019 interview with Jazz Times, his songs are a call to “a party so nice it will fill your soul completely.” Fonseca will perform with bassist Yandy Martínez Rodríguez and drummer Raúl Herrera, with whom he recorded Yesun and with whom he plays weekly gigs at Havana club La Zorro y el Cuervo; this concert is a rare opportunity to witness the vanguard of 21st-century Afro-Cuban jazz.   v

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