Roberto Fonseca is a pianist who unites jazz with the music of his native Cuba. His one long set at the Howard Assembly Room alternated the rhythms of Cuba with dazzling improvisations, backed up by two equally stunning musicians in his trio, bassist Yandy Martinez-Rodriguez and drummer Raul Herrera.
The trio makes an immediate impact with the opener, based around a two-chord figure for piano and/or electric bass, but going through myriad changes, dynamic rather than rhythmical, with Herrera already making his mark as a terrific drummer.
Two or three numbers in, Fonseca and Herrera left the stand and Martinez-Rodriguez switched to double bass for a superb arco solo. Then, as he reverted to plucking, Herrera and then Fonseca came in: the melody irritatingly familiar, the final attack from the piano irresistible.
Fonseca’s vocal contributions, often in a wordless falsetto, added to the mix and shortly – apologies for lack of names, but introductions were in short supply – he began with an atmospheric vocal a piece that ended up with another tremendous Herrera solo.
Fonseca’s vocal contributions, often in a wordless falsetto, added to the mix and shortly – apologies for lack of names, but introductions were in short supply – he began, with an atmospheric vocal, a piece that ended up with another tremendous Herrera solo.
As for Fonseca himself, he found himself at times managing four voices: grand piano, two keyboards, and his own human voice, standing between the piano and the keyboards, switching from one to the other. A shift up transformed the music in an instant, Cuban rhythms suddenly emerging in a dizzying display of drumming, then equally he brought it all back to the piano and we could savour the restraint of his treatment.
There was nothing of restraint in his treatment of the audience, goading them to ever-louder versions of the songs and finishing off with a suitably audience-friendly mambo, Fonseca as energetic and brilliant as ever, Martinez-Rodriguez producing yet another majestic solo and Herrera setting the rhythm with two drumsticks. Whatever else the evening showed, it was the value of working with a trio who know each other intimately.
The mood generally was sunny throughout the 90-plus minutes of the set, but there was room for more introspective piano ruminations, Fonseca varying his bewildering clusters of notes with simple spare melodies. All in all, a memorable set.
Before this, there was an interesting warm-up set of 30 minutes by an unnamed trumpet and piano duet: a number by Chick Corea and three originals by the pianist were followed by a couple of compositions by the trumpeter which lifted the spirits, good, direct numbers that never overstayed their welcome played with a nicely edgy tone.
Touring nationwide until 24 April 2022.