Jazz CD Reviews

Robert Fonseca, piano – Zamazu – Enja

Zamazu represents the future of Cuban music - Variety called it the Next Generation after the Buena Vista Social Club.

Published on May 11, 2007

Robert Fonseca, piano – Zamazu – Enja
Robert Fonseca, piano – Zamazu – Enja JENJ 3328-2, 1 hr. *****:

(With Mercedes Cortes Alfano, vocals; Javier Zalba, reeds; Ramsés Rodriguez, drums; Omar Gonzalez & Orlando “Cachaito” Lopez, doublebass & others)

Now this is my kind of Afro-Cuban music! Recorded in Cuba, Zamazu represents the future of Cuban music – Variety called it the Next Generation after the Buena Vista Social Club.  It’s jazzier and more instrumentally-based than the son-flavored BV hit.  Fonseca replaced the original Buena Vista Social Club pianist in 2001 at the age of 26.  He co-produced and played piano on the final Buena Vista Social Club recording by the late Ibrahim Ferrer, Mi Sueno.  The pianist comes from a long line of amazing Cuban keyboardists, including Lecuona, Jorge Bolet, Bebo and Chucho Valdés, Chico O’Farrill and Gonzalo Rubalcaba.   He gets to shine on this CD as not only an outstanding player, but also a composer-arranger and bandleader. Among the guests on the session are Robert’s mother Mercedes Alfaro, another vocalist – Omara Portuondo, a Brazilian percussionist Carlinhos Brown, and a new flamenco guitarist from Spain, Vincente Amigo.

There is no dearth of ethnic influences even if the Cuban son genre is not as prominent as on the BV Social Club. There’s the Spanish guitar influence, the Brazilian percussion, American gospel music, an Oriental flavor. Clarinetist/saxist Zalba has a haunting sound perfect for such sadly lyrical tunes as Suspiro. What a finger-twister is Fonseca’s 56-second interlude Asi Baila Mi Madre!  On the six-minute-length Middle-Eastern sounding Ishmael (a 21st Century Caravan?), Fonseca takes a dramatic and lovely solo stint against an octet of strings. There’s of course plenty of Afro-Cuban percussion and atmospheric backup singers. In the booklet are descriptions of each track and a list of the specific performers on it, but the lyrics are only in Spanish – so have fun with Babelfish… Fonseca guesses that his music is “somewhere on the crossroads of soul, jazz and classical music. There are even some clear influences of jungle and drum n’ bass in there.”  Whatever it is, you gotta hear it!

TrackList: Misa Popular, Tierra en Mano, Clandestino, Llego Cachaito, Asi Baila mi Madre, Congo Arabe, Zamazu, Suspiro, Ishmael, El Niejo, Mil Congojaz, Triste Alegria, Zamazamazu, Dime Que No.

 - John Henry




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