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Roberto Fonseca Engages Audience at Highline Ballroom

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Wednesday September 25, 2013

from The New York Times

For Some Songs, the Audience Is Included
Roberto Fonseca at the Highline Ballroom
By Nate Chinen

During his encore at the Highline Ballroom on Monday night, the pianist Roberto Fonseca did what any gracious Cuban entertainer typically does with a New York audience: he struck a note of inclusion. Leading his band into a traditional son cubano, he earned a welcoming murmur. Then, steering his solo toward an ageless bolero, “Bésame Mucho,” he elicited cheers. For a while he played the theme with one hand; with the other he directed a singalong, holding the crowd in an outstretched palm.

For the preceding hour, the concert had crackled with less obvious methods of engagement. Mr. Fonseca is a syncretist, and for every conventional turn in his performance, there was some twist of combination or inflection. At the same time, he harbors little patience for obscurity: his interest was in reaching those audience members with pacing and virtuosity, in whatever combination worked best.

Working with a six-piece combo, he drew heavily from “Yo,” his most recent album, which met with rapturous reviews in Europe last year. Now out in the United States on Montuno, licensed to Concord Jazz, it’s a spirited work, by turns folkloric and turbocharged. That range was best captured in the show by “Chabani,” which had a fusionesque fanfare, a sampled muezzin cry and a rumba section in roiling 12/8 polyrhythm, over which Mr. Fonseca soloed and then introduced the band.

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