Roberto Fonseca ‘Yo’ (Jazz Village/Harmonia Mundi) 4/5

Cuban pianist Roberto Fonseca is known primarily for his participation in the more recent efforts by the Buena Vista Social Club collective, most notably the final album by Ibrahim Ferrer which he arranged to great acclaim. However, Fonseca is both an accomplished and rapidly maturing artist in his own right and his latest album finds him in relatively new territory, fusing Afro-Cuban jazz with a variety of African sounds from both west and north of this great continent. The result is a real slow burner of an album that takes a few listens to fully digest the intricate combination of genres, but becomes ever more accessible with each listen. Recorded in Paris, a number of African musicians have been enlisted to give this new project an authentic pan-African meets Cuban feel and they include some of the new stars as well as more established ones. An added bonus is the production on a few pieces of DJ Gilles Peterson along with remixes of the more danceable cuts and this is a definite attempt to appeal to a younger audience. A prime example of the successful fusion of styles is on the key number ‘Siete rayos’ which features lovely used of Cuban-style piano vamps, Afro-Cuban percussion and the inclusion of the stringed ngoni instrument. Factor in some Gotan Project-esque sound effects and this number may just be the ideal vehicle to propel the album to a wider public beyond world roots fans. Equally impressive is the acoustic piano led piece ‘El sonañdor está cansado’ with heavy bassline prominent. There are shades of Brad Mehldau in the playing of Fonseca on ‘JMF’ which then morphs into an Afro-Cuban montuno with Fonseca transferring to eery sounding organ that is akin to one of Charlie Palmieri’s classic 1970s sides on Coco. Senegal’s seminal Orchestra Baobab are evoked on ‘Quien soy yo’ with vocals from Assane Mboup and echo and voice effects that make this song a twenty-first century take on the great Afro-Latin bands of yesteryear such as the aforementioned collective and No. 1. North African rhythms are introduced on two songs, ‘Gnawa stop’ and ‘Chabani’. For the former, a mid-tempo piano dominated piece, Moroccan gnawa influences are weaved in with repeated riffs and handclaps while on the latter vocalist Faudel Amil delivers lovely wordless vocals. For some real diversity, the driving fender rhodes on ‘Rachel’ enters jazz-funk territory with hip-hop drum beat patterns into the mix. Those in search of dancefloor action should look no further than ‘Bibise’ with lead vocals from the new darling of the Malian music scene, Fatoumata Diawara, who recorded an excellent debut album for World Circuit last autumn. on this piece Senegalese kora player Baba Sissoko displays his virtuoso instrumental talents to full effect. A UK tour is imminent and begins on 23 March through to 1 April. It should be one of the most anticipated gigs of the year thus far.

Tim Stenhouse