Roberto Fonseca ‘ABUC’ (Impulse!) 4/5

Cuban pianist Roberto Fonseca returns with his eighth album and, although on the legendary Impulse label, this is a recording that is firmly rooted in the Caribbean and has Afro-Cuban jazz at the very core of its essence. Recorded in Havana, and sounding as though it was probably made at the famous EGREM recording studio, with members of the Buena Vista Social Club, notably vocalist and guitarist Eliades Ochoa and trumpeter Manuel ‘Guajiro’ Mirabal, and alumni from various other Cuban legendary formations including Orchestra Aragón, this has an old-school quality to it that makes for some scintillating Cuban jazz. The big band era is revisited on the brassy accompaniment and full percussion plus collective chants on, ‘Afro Mambo’. DJs and listeners alike have fallen in love with a stunning reading of the old chestnut, ‘Cubano Chant’, that Ray Bryant composed and which featured on the ‘Drum Suite’ album by Art Blakey from the late 1950s and a memorable Afro-Cuban jazz interpretation by Cal Tjader. This engaging piece, which bookends the album with a second solo piano version at the end, is right up there with the best of them and includes guest New Orleans musician Trombone Shorty who adds some vital punch to proceedings. In a different mood altogether, ‘Habanera’ has a brooding percussive background with the meanest of bass lines and wordless female vocals. Indeed vocal harmonies are a regular feature of the album and classical and Afro-Cuban elements collide in melodious harmony on, ‘Sagrado Corazón’, which is mainly gentle-paced before suddenly hitting a hypnotic riff. Further variety is provided with a funkier R & B ditty, ‘Finally’, while Fonseca’s pianistic skills are showcased fully on long solo passages on, ‘Contradanza del espiritu’. A fine album from a pianist now in his early forties who has fully soaked up the tradition of Cuban music, yet still found something fresh and new to say.

Tim Stenhouse