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Roberto Fonseca: Akokan

Raul d'Gama Rose By

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In his follow-up to 2007's Zamazu (Enja/Justin Time), Cuban piano master, Roberto Fonseca deepens his journey into his quasi-mystical musical search. Like the mythical Gilgamesh, the pianist has embarked on a seemingly endless journey, a leap of faith into the musical unknown, to find the tonal center of pain and joy, heartache and ecstasy—and yes, in the tradition of the timeless myth, he has set the mystery and magic of artistry that courses through his veins down his hands, to his fingertips. Here he assembles notes in beautiful necklaces of sound to delve in to the mystery of human endeavor—that which produced so much pain and triumph.

Akokan, he is proud to announce, is a Yoruba word that translates as "From The Heart." Here, Fonseca guides his ensemble of favorite musicians through a journey that examines relationships—from the most precious one of mother and child, to ballads of the fallen. The result is music of hope played in a rich mélange of idioms from Yoruba to Spanish and Cuban, and jazz that Fonseca makes uniquely his own. His music reflects a singular voice, awash with deep emotions that emerge from childlike sentimentality to that of a questioning adult mind. Solos are deeply thoughtful, almost ponderous, with ideas that flow slowly from phrases that ascend like eternal questions, and then descend rich in possibility and the musical avenues he pursues with muscular technicality and textural elegance. He carries with him the tradition of Peruchin and Emiliano Santiago, melded indelibly with the jazz idioms of the great Frank Emilio Flynn. Still, when he annunciates a phrase, idea or dazzling run, it is all Roberto Fonseca.

As he did with Zamazu, the album begins with a tribute to his mother, the celebrated singer Mercedes Cortes Alfaro who, just as she did on the earlier album, seems to bless her son's new project by singing a fragment of a popular song with venerable feeling. Fonseca then unravels—almost suite-like—his response to the "blessing for his musical journey." He feeds off the energy of those who keep him focused in a tender response to his mother, with "Lo Que Me Hace Vivir." His dazzling skill is on display almost immediately as he pokes and probes into the heart of the song. His characteristic mesmerizing tumbao, that bass line exploration vamp that accompanies right-hand runs, defines his thoughts as he emerges from the dense clusters of notes.

There is the side to Fonseca that relentlessly probes musical ideas—their tones and textures—to celebrate their discovery. There is also the reverent copyist who turns classic repertoire into his own. The beautiful version of "Drume Negrita," held together by Javier Zalba's woody brilliance on the clarinet, is truly unforgettable. "Siete Potentcias" features vocalist Mayra Andrade, as she voices mystically to a litany of saints; magnificent and ethereal, she adds to an album that is as perfect in its conception as in execution.

Track Listing: Fragmento de Misa, Lo Que Me Hace Vivir; Drume Negrita; Seite Potencias (Bu Kantu); Bulgarian; Cuando Uno Crece; Lento y Despacio; Como En Las Peliculas; Pequeños Viajes; La Flor Que No Cuidé El Ritmo de Tus Hombros; Everyone Deserves A Second Chance; Cuando Una Madre Llama A Su Hijo.

Personnel: Roberto Fonseca: piano, voice; Javier Zalba: flute (10), clarinet (3, 5), baritone saxophone (11); Omar Gonzalez: bass (1--12); Ramsés Rodriguez: drums (1--12); Joel Hierrezuelo: percussion (1--5, 7, 11, 12); Mayra Andrade: vocal (4); Raul Midon: guitar, vocal (12).

Title: Akokan | Year Released: 2010 | Record Label: Justin Time Records


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