Roberto Fonseca

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Roberto Fonseca is one heck of a pianist, firmly grounded in his native Cuba, but also a child of his time, strongly influenced by the 1980s, especially Rockit-era Herbie Hancock. That's quite apparent on the first cut here, "'80s," which builds on Hancock's work from that time, heavily rhythmic -- except the rhythms are Cuban -- and moving between some outstanding piano work and some low-key Hammond for a very joyful noise. From there he switches tack completely, bringing up an Afro-Cuban soft groove for "Bibisa," working with singer Fatoumata Diawara as well as kora and ngoni. It's beautifully successful, a fusion that works elsewhere on the disc, with "Chabani" connecting the dots between Cuba and Algeria, while "Gnawa" delves into the Moroccan gnawa tradition. There's plenty of Cuba throughout, but it's at its strongest on "7 Rayos," which is an homage to Santeria. Fonseca is a towering presence all over the disc, whether he's touching blues on "Asi Es la Vida" or trading lines with electric kora on "JMF." There's a glorious fluidity to his playing, but he's also an excellent listener, working well with the other musicians. This disc will greatly enhance his reputation, and definitely raises him up several notches.

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