Roberto Fonseca: Cuban jazz at its best

Mario López-Goicoechea
2 min readFeb 1, 2017

Hot on the heels of its musically horizon-expanding predecessor, Yo, comes Roberto Fonseca’s new album ABUC (Cuba, spelled backwards). Once again, the young Cuban pianist delivers a high-quality product full of rhythmical gold nuggets.

Whereas Yo was brawnier and gutsier, from the (perhaps D’Angelo-inspired?) naked-torso front cover to the dizzying piano riffs, ABUC, by comparison, is a much calmer affair. There are still heavy and maddening piano riffs, but the production overall is more balanced. It is also more inward-looking. While Yo looked towards Africa as a bridge-building musical link in the well-acknowledged Afro-Cuban chain, ABUC focuses more on Cuban traditional rhythms.

A good example of this is the Killer Opening Song, written, not by a Cuban, but by an American pianist. Ray Bryant was born in Philadelphia and gained notoriety when he played with the likes of Miles Davis and Sonny Rollins. Cubano Chant was one of his more popular compositions.

The way Roberto tackles the tune is so cleverly done that the resulting melody sounds as if it has just been written now instead of more than sixty years ago. Rather than going for speed, as Oscar Peterson famously did when he covered Cubano Chant, he goes for compactness. Horns, percussion and piano jump in from the outset, hand in hand together, each performer taking…