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Roberto Fonseca: La Gran Diversión

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Roberto Fonseca by Alejandro Azcuy
Pianist, Composer, Bandleader Roberto Fonseca - Photo by Alejandro Azcuy

What a fabulously interesting idea for the virtuoso pianist and bandleader Roberto Fonseca to bring together some of the finest musicians in Cuba to lure us away from the distraction of the pyrotechnics of contemporary music. In return for our rapt attention, he performs a programme of son, danzón and bolero with characteristic eloquence, subtle invention.

In doing so with breathless joie de vivre he beckons us with otherworldly magic to world Afro-Cuban music that we thought was washed away in the dissonant noise that seems to have throttled us ever since we were shut out of his beloved Cuba.

The exquisite repertoire of the all-too-short album so aptly entitled La Gran Diversión, which translated in English not only means to have “great fun” but shows us just how it is done: There are alluring colourations with which the pianist and vocalists – including himself – meld with the brass and woodwinds to produce the music’s harmonic tension. There is also the ubiquitous and energetic rumbling thunder with which the Afro-Cuban percussion pierces the skin of the melodies. All of this makes for shapely and dramatically vivid music.

Roberto Fonseca: La Gran Diversión
Roberto Fonseca: La Gran Diversión [album cover]

As always the music is exquisitely orchestrated with each musician – led by Mr Fonseca, of course – paying meticulous attention to matters of phrasing and the kind of interplay that has made for a kind of brotherhood among Cuban musicians that is the envy of the whole world. Not even sixty years of brutal isolation has dampened the spirit of this music and the musicians who continue to inspire the world creating it as Mr Fonseca proves yet again.

The beauty of tone pervades Mr Fonseca’s pianism, and this becomes the backdrop for soloing musicians who – among others – includes saxophonists Michel Herrera, Jimmy Jenks, Ariel Vigo and the great Javier Zalba, trumpeters Roberto García López and Thommy Lowry García, percussion colourists Andrés Coayo and the masterful Inor Sotolongo, and guitarist Jorge Chicoy. A big part of the indelible glue of this rhythm is, of course, the incomparable contrabassist Yandy Martínez.

All these virtuoso musicians appear to have interiorised this music and perform it with idiomatic brilliance, and thus show that they are fully attuned to the artistic vision of Mr Fonseca. For his part, the pianist and leader provide ample breathing space for each musician not only to express themselves to the fullest extent of their individual virtuosity.

The result is music such as Cuando tú bailas pa mi and Mercedes, Baila Mulata and Oscar please stop me – just four examples of this most beautifully balanced, sonorous and polished performance on record. As if that were not enough we are treated to two memorable guest appearances. The first is an effervescent vocal performance by Clarence Bekker on Mani mambo and the other is a soaring flight of violin virtuosity from Regina Carter on Kinka mache. Oh, to have been there when this great fun was being had by one and all…

Deo gratis

YouTube Playlist – Roberto Fonseca: La Gran Diversión

Music 1: Yanim; 2: Sal al Malecón; 3: Mani mambo; 4: Oya; 5: Cuando tú bailas pa mi; 6: Mercedes; 7: Kinka mache; 8: Baila mulata; 9: Oscar please stop; 10: Osini.

Musicians – Roberto Fonseca: piano [1 – 3, 5 – 9], organ [8], vocals [4, 6, 10] and backing vocals [5, 8]; Yandy Martínez González: contrabass; Andrés Coayo: percussion [1 – 3, 5, 8] and Cuban percussion [4, 6, 7, 10]; Adel González Gómez: percussion [5, 8] and trumpet [2]; Inor Sotolongo: percussion [3, 4, 6, 7, 9, 10]; Roberto García López: trumpet [1 – 6, 8, 10] and backing vocals [1, 3, 5, 7, 8]; Thommy Lowry García: 1st trumpet [1 – 6, 8, 10] and backing vocals [1, 3, 5, 7, 8]; Michel Herrera: alto saxophone [1, 2, 5, 8]; Jimmy Jenks: tenor saxophone [3, 4, 6, 10] and backing vocals [3, 7]; Javier Zalba Suárez: baritone saxophone [1, 8] and soprano saxophone [2, 4] and alto saxophone [5]; Ariel Vigo: baritone and soprano saxophones [3, 4, 6, 10]; Joandry Argudin: trombone [5]; Jorge Chicoy: guitar [8] Mercedes Cortés: vocals [6]; and featuring Clarence Bekker: vocals [3] and Regina Carter: violin [7].

Released – 2023
Label – Wagram Music [3442992]
Runtime – 38:23

Based in Milton, Ontario, Canada, Raul is a poet, musician and an accomplished critic whose profound analysis is reinforced by his deep understanding of music, technically as well as historically.

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