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 turns to shine in their own right. Fonseca is not just a very skillful pianist; he has also surrounded himself with very good arrangers. That much is evident from the different layers that peel away as each musician does their solo.
K.O.S. mentioned differences between Yo and ABUC at the beginning of this post. One of the more obvious ones is the guests list. Afro-centric Yo had singers Fatoumate Diawara, Algerian Faudel Amil and Senegalese Assane Mboup. By contrast, UBAC boasts Cuban legends such as Eliades Ochoa, the Aragón Orchestra and Manuel “Guajiro” Mirabal.
Listening to Fonseca’s latest album is almost like taking a history lesson on Cuban music, especially in the 20th century. From the intensity of Afro Mambo to Asere Monina Bonco (with its nod to the oft-misunderstood Abakuá culture), this is an album that wears its Cubanness on its sleeve. The final piece, Velas y Flores is perhaps the perfect example. A mid-song monologue by Roberto Fonseca about what being Cuban means is the sort of life-affirming incantation that makes the denizens of the largest island in the Antilles so proud of their country.
Once more, the Killer Opening Song is the one that opens these richly-textured musical floodgates.