By John Murph | Published December 2019
When it comes to 21st-century Afro-Cuban jazz, Roberto Fonseca is one of the music’s brightest lights. For nearly two decades, the pianist and composer has anchored his music with deep roots in various Afro-Cuban idioms without being confined to them. His most recent albums have illustrated Cuba’s cultural exchanges with other cosmopolitan music: Nigeria’s Afrobeat, Puerto Rico’s reggaeton, Brazil’s bossa nova and the States’ contemporary jazz and hip-hop.
That confluence of torch-bearing veracity and diplomatic curiosity energizes Fonseca’s newest effort as it unfurls like an ultra-hip multimedia playlist. Modern Afro-Cuban joints like the carnivalesque danzón “Kachucha” pulsate next to the intriguing hybrid “Motown,” a soulful ditty that subtly tips its hat to both the label and Detroit’s noteworthy electronica scene.
There’s a sonic fullness to Yesun, despite it being mostly a trio date. But that’s a testament to the ensemble’s dynamic range, as well as the leader’s command on acoustic piano, as well as various keyboards. Virtuosity long has been a hallmark of Afro-Cuban jazz; sometimes a tendency to blaze across intricate polyrhythms can obscure music’s identity. Fonseca certainly shows off his percussive touch and boundless improvisational prowess intermittently. But more importantly, he shows a flair for succinct melodicism as on the laid-back “OO” on which his crisp, repetitive riffs sound like a love letter to Robert Glasper.
The album’s eclecticism might jar those seeking standard-issue Afro-Cuban jazz. But for those looking for a contemporary mosaic of Cuban’s jazz scene, Yesun mesmerizes.
Yesun: La Llamada; Kachucha; Cadenas; Por Ti; Aggua; Motown; Stone Of Hope; Vivo; OO; Mambo Pa La Niña; Ocha; No Soy De Esos; Clave. (54:58)
Personnel: Roberto Fonseca, keyboards; Raúl Herrera, drums; Yandy Martínez Rodriguez, bass; Ibrahim Maalouf (2), trumpet; Joe Lovano (8), tenor saxophone; Gema 4 (1, 10), Danay Súarez (3), vocals.