Reviewer: Ron Simpson
This exhilarating concert by Roberto Fonseca was the first in a short UK leg of a European tour – and how lucky we were to get it when only the Midlands and London, apart from Yorkshire, were able to hear this wonderful band. Roberto Fonseca is best known in Europe for being the pianist with the Buena Vista Social Club on international tours, but his current album, ABUC, from which he took much of the concert, delves deep into the spirit of Cuban jazz – the observant will have noted that it’s the work of someone who knows CUBA backwards!
At the start of the single long set only bassist Yandy Martinez, drummer Ramses “Dynamite” Rodriguez and conga drummer Adel Gonzalez took to the stage and the pulsating rhythm set up by the two drummers set the tone for the evening. The appearance of Fonseca and a feisty horn section built a little call and response between piano and horns before Javier Zalvi’s booting baritone sax and Matthew Simon’s mariachi-tinged trumpet took potent solos. The thing built from climax to climax – no need to warm up.
The second number, Family, threw three more ingredients into the mix: pre-recorded vocals, Fonseca’s funky organ sound and the authoritative tenor sax of Jimmy Jenks. From then on the excitement was relieved only by the occasional more contemplative piece: Contradanza del Espiritu began with rhapsodic piano, the old favourite, Besame Mucho, with a fine bowed bass solo with more than a hint of J.S. Bach. Sagrado Corazon’s lilting piano melody was soon joined by Zalvi’s evocative flute, then grew in intensity with the urgent repetitions of Abrahan Aristilde’s vocal.
Fonseca’s charming introductions played with the notion that his English is none too good, though his rapport with the audience was total, and he claimed that Contradanza del Espiritu means “Dance of the spirit” or “Spirit of the dance” – he wasn’t sure which. For sure, the spirit of the dance prevailed all evening. Perpetually smiling drummer Rodriguez combined perfectly with conga virtuoso Gonzalez; the horn section riffed with edgy command and struck bizarre poses; Aristilde danced with as much freedom as he sang; everyone laughed a lot – and Fonseca didn’t let the audience off the hook, insisting on the necessary rhythmic clapping and vocal responses.
After the tempestuous Afro Mambo, there was only one way to go – more of the same. At 90 minutes Fonseca pretended he needed suggestions for an encore. “Mambo!” shouted an audience member and got the response, “We did that. Did you get here late?”
The second strongest impression of the evening was how much the musicians were enjoying themselves; the strongest, though, was of their total commitment and outstanding musicianship.
Touring Internationally | Image: Contributed