'Zamazu' is a deftly varied and well-sequenced set that leaves a strong impression of...
Jon Lusk 2007
Fans of the Buena Vista Social Club and their various solo artists such as the late Ibrahim Ferrer and Omara Portuondo will probably have seen Roberto Fonseca at the piano on the numerous tours he has done with them. Onstage, he’s an intense and charismatic figure, scatting as he kneeds and pummels the keys in a muscular, percussive style that hints at his formative years as a drummer.
Fresh from co-producing and playing on Ferrer’s posthumously released swan song Mi Sueño, Fonseca unleashes this confident jazz-roots solo album. It’s nothing if not eclectic, swaggering beyond his Afro-Cuban roots while retaining the strong spiritualism that his background has instilled in him, something apparent right from the opening a cappella piece (“Misa Popular”) by his mother, Mercedes Cortes Alfaro. While there’s plenty of passion here, it’s gratifying how lyrical and tender a pianist Fonseca can be, most notably on the subtle swell of “Suspiro”, the soothing slow guajira of “Dime Que No” and “El Niejo”, his tribute to Ferrer. Even so, when Portuondo follows it up with a wobbly take on “Mil Congojas” – a Ferrer favourite – sounding weathered, but not beaten, the result is only just the right side of schmaltz.
The title track has a Brazilian bounce to it, courtesy of producer Alê Siqueira and percussionist Boghan Costa, and the
Weather-Report-on-holiday-in-Turkey groove of “Congo Arabe” demonstrates a fondness for jazz fusion. You can hear echoes of the late, great Rubén González, (whom he replaced for the BVSC) on the tumbling, gymnastic runs of the gorgeous danzón “Triste Alegría” and on the improvised parts of “Ishmael”, a respectful but innovative cover of a tune by the South African keyboard colossus Abdullah Ibrahim.
Aside from numerous other guests, Fonseca is accompanied by bassist Omar González, drummer Ramsés Rodrigues (a times a little over-enthusiastic) and his long-term collaborative partner Javier Zalba (saxes, flute and clarinet), whose sometimes-shrill onstage tendencies are thankfully kept in check. Zamazu is a deftly varied and well-sequenced set that leaves a strong impression of who Fonseca is and promises plenty for the future.