MUSIC REVIEW: Roberto Fonseca and his Quintet from Cuba

Roberto Fonseca and his Quintet from Cuba performed at the Lismore Town Hall. Direct from his Australian debut (as bandleader) at the Sydney Opera House, and the only other show he will be performing in Australia, Roberto Fonseca and his Quintet (who have been playing together in Havana full time for three years) wowed the audience and left them bleeding for more.
MUSIC REVIEW: Roberto Fonseca and his Quintet from Cuba
Alison Pearl has had a love affair with Hispanic music since her earlier years living in New York. Praise be for that, as she has singularly performed a ‘coup de grace’ by spiriting Cuban ‘legend in the living’ Roberto Fonseca and his Quintet onto the stage at the Lismore City Hall. Yes, Lismore, northern New South Wales! Direct from his Australian debut (as bandleader) at the Sydney Opera House, and the only other show he will be performing in Australia, Roberto Fonseca and his Quintet (who have been playing together in Havana full time for three years) wowed the audience and left them bleeding for more. Alison introduced this amazing performer with a few “orders of the day” on Cuba, setting the scene. Firstly, the American government had reversed a previous law regarding money going back to Cuba from Cuban’s living in the US (thank you Obama)" secondly that the Cuban baseball team had beaten Australia in the same division of world baseball. So much Cuban news input all in one place – Lismore! Lismore (and its environs) is proving to be the cultural epicentre of the universe, with many thanks going to NORPA for their assistance in making these cultural pearls happen. Add a fabulous audience, primarily made up of musicians, artists, thespians, literary gurus and the culture-hungry, and you have an appreciation society who gave a standing ovation before the musicians even plucked out a single note. Alison duly thanked NORPA and the networking audience who “spread the word on the ground and showed faith” to fill the hall with eager punters. In the foyer, prior to the opening of the doors, there were many comments like “so this is what it takes to get you down from the hills”. The audience was seated by the volunteer ushers, who, after positioning the last of us, started bopping in the aisles. Ushers literally danced you to your seat, in anticipation. After the enthusiastic opening ovation complete with whistling, cheering and clapping, Roberto and his band entered stage left and right. Head back, smile on his dial, arms outstretched and legs swinging, Roberto Fonseca took us to Cuba on musical wings. The positioning of the band on stage allowed everyone to see the drummer drumming" the piano being played with heartfelt emotion" the bass taking on a life of it’s own" the congas defying you to get out of your seat and boogie in the aisles (along with the ushers!) and the saxophone and flute filling your senses with a longing to travel to Cuba and learn to really dance. Roberto introduced a dedication to “Lopez, who sadly passed away” and the bass solo (amazing performance) led the dirge with Roberto’s piano in the distance" the drummer’s light touch hinting at the sorrow" and the combined effort giving the impression that Lopez was being walked into the next life. The musical reverence that ensued when the rest of the Quintet rejoined signalled Lopez had definitely reached his destination – surely Jazz Heaven! Roberto, as bandleader, affords ample room for his band to shine in their own individual rite. The drum solo was a spectacular, fluid, fast, competent and compelling achievement, with the drummer playing in and around and all over the music – absolutely riveting and breathtaking. Seamlessly the rest of the band took up the challenge many, many, many times over. They played as one, yet with their unique and multi-facetted individual styles, totally mesmerising and captivating everyone, with the ‘audience musicians’ going ballistic – the bass player coaxed out some particularly awesome notes, and the sounds of “whoa” still linger in the air. Roberto informed us that he was going to “take us to Cuba, via Argentina”, and introduced the rest of the band in true Mardi Gras style: Javier Zalba -horns (Javier has collaborated/played with Roberto for 12 years)" Omar Gonzalez on bass" Joel Hierrezuelo – percussion" Ramses Rodriguez – drummer. Enter the funky keyboard" more standing ovations" flute time now and a bit of a sing-along with the audience participating with gusto, and the trip to Cuba, via Argentina, was complete. To quote Alison Pearl’s press release: “Born in 1975 in Havana, Roberto Fonseca had a meteoric early career. At age 15 he began to perform at Havana's international Jazz Plaza festival. In 1997 he and saxophone/clarinet player Javier Zalba founded the group Temperamento, whose debut CD "En El Comienzo" was awarded "Best Jazz CD" at the Cubadisco Fair 1999. From 1999 to 2001 Roberto recorded three more albums under his own name... Roberto's career took an unexpected turn when he met Rubén González, Ibrahim Ferrer, Omara Portuondo, Cachaíto López and all those legends out of the Buena Vista Social Club. In 2001 he was invited to replace Rubén González in the Ibrahim Ferrer Orchestra and played piano and keyboards for Ferrer in more than 400 concerts worldwide. In 2002 he also joined Omara Portuondo's band. He was a featured soloist at the 2002 Tokyo Jazz Festival sharing the stage with the likes of Herbie Hancock, Wayne Shorter and Mike Brecker.... On his new album "Zamazu" he is assisted by his long-term musical partner Javier Zalba (clarinet, soprano sax, alto sax, flute) and an incredibly flexible Cuban/Brazilian rhythm section...” Hopefully Roberto Fonseca will keep the Cuban-Australian link happening and return again, this time with gigs booked all over the country, to afford others less fortunate than myself a chance to watch him shine. Roberto Fonseca and his Quintet from Cuba Roberto Fonseca at the Lismore City Hall, March 11th, 2009

Marika Bryant

Tuesday 17 March, 2009

About the author

Marika Bryant is an artist and writer living in Northern New South Wales, graduating from Southern Cross University (Bachelor of Visual Arts) in 2004. Marika has worked as a writer for magazines, advertising agencies and other ‘strictly for profit’ institutions and is now focussing on her career as an abstract expressionistic, poetry based artist with a twist. Having written (and performed) the odd comedy skit, and been caught behind the microphone once or twice, Marika can empathise with many in the ‘arty world’, knowing that it isn’t always easy!