The lack of a local distributor resulted in this one slipping under the radar until its Grammy nomination and the announcement of virtuoso pianist Roberto Fonseca’s return tour of Australia. It certainly can’t slip under any radars once you press “play”. The opening 80’s comes blasting from the speakers in a tumult of African percussion, Cuban percussion and drums, setting the trend for a succession of mostly dense pieces, although with a widely shifting array of textures.
Bibisa, for instance, takes us to Mali, with its dialogue between kora and n’goni as well as Fatoumata Diawara’s exhilarating singing, while the ensuing Mi Negra Ave Maria is an anthemic setting for an optimistic poem by Mike C Ladd. The density – sometimes bordering on muddiness – comes from thickets of percussion, blazes of singing, and Fonseca’s adding another keyboard to his piano. The music, therefore, is generally less overtly jazzy than on the last two studio albums, instead carrying more of Africa and of hip hop, edging the feel closer to fellow Cuban Omar Sosa’s territory.
But always the piano comes slicing through the thickets, machete-sharp and instantly arresting, as Fonseca unleashes each dazzling, engulfing rush of melodic clarity, drama and contagious rhythm. Standing out is the stunningly intense Chabani.
In 2009 he and his brilliant band played in the Concert Hall. This time we are blessed to hear them in the intimacy of the Basement on March 12.