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Roberto Fonseca Akokan Review

Album. Released 2009.  

BBC Review

This leading young Cuban pianist has made another wide-ranging and accomplished album.

Jon Lusk 2009

Two years on from his confident debut, this leading young Cuban pianist has made another wide-ranging and accomplished album. Akokan follows a similar template to Zamazu, and comes across as a slightly more mature and subdued work.

Aside from having had the best possible exposure through working with several Buena Vista Social Club veterans, Fonseca’s success is in no small part down to having had a stable working relationship with the same core group for the last twelve years. The other major reason is the accessibility and eclecticism of his original melodies, which are rooted in Cuban styles, but show that he has his ears wide open to the world of Latin music, jazz and beyond.

He dedicates the dreamy ballad Como En Las Películas (Like In The Movies) to the music of France, and claims that Bulgarian was inspired by that country. Even so, the combination of Fonseca’s piano, the complex time signatures and Javier Zalba’s eastern-inflected clarinet on this piece most obviously suggest Turkey’s wonderful Ayse Tüntüncü Trio.

The pervading influence of South Africa’s Abdullah Ibrahim is apparent on both Lo Que Me Hace Vivir and La Flor Que No Cuidé, while the ghost of Rubén González haunts Cuando Uno Crece. And the contrarily titled Lento Y Despacio (Slow and slowly) is a stop-start percussive jam that could easily have come from Aron Ottignon’s inspired Culture Tunnels album.

As on Zamazu, this album kicks off with a short incantation by Fonseca’s mother, Mercedes Cortes Alfaro. Perhaps the most striking piece is Drume Negrita, which has a cool, relaxed vibe and features some lovely sax work by Zalba.

Fonseca doesn’t seem to scat as much as he used to, but on Siete Potencias (Bu Kantu) he ropes in Cape Verdean singer Mayra Andrade, who provides her own words and acquits herself well. Perhaps more jarring is the arrival of Venezuelan Raul Midón, singing his own composition Everyone Deserves A Second Chance in English. It’s only this and the occasional tendency of drummer Ramsés Rodrigues to over-reach himself that mar an otherwise classy set.

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