World & Latin

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Profound Peak In Yo

11 SEP 13 CHRIS SLAWECKI

Roberto Fonseca has led not only the consolidation but the advancement of the modern and traditional music of his native Cuba through his thoughtful incorporation of urban, African and jazz rhythms. Yo, released on Concord Jazz, takes a quantum leap forward in Fonseca's journey. "This is the objective of the album: To touch the African roots without forgetting where I came from, without forgetting Cuba," he explains. "On Yo, I want to delve deep into my roots in light of my experiences."

Like most great music, Yo reveals different layers of beauty with repeated listening. "Chabani" and "Gnawa Stop" cross-pollenate rhythms from Cuba, Algeria and Morocco; "7 Rayos" builds from acoustic guitar and piano into a shadowy musical atmosphere thickened by electronics, percussion and vocal incantation.

Fonseca is not only a songwriting alchemist but a deep, intense piano and keyboard player, too. Rippling acoustic piano pours out the melody of "Bibisa" like water washing upon vocalist Fatomata Diawara's song. It leads drums and percussion in the churning Cuban rhythms that tear into the opening "80s,"and builds "Mi Negra Ave Maria" into its crescendo behind Mike Ladd's spoken-word improvisation -- a profound lyrical, musical and emotional peak that I cannot urge you strongly enough to experience for yourself.

Yo was released in Europe in 2012; the French music magazine Vibrations named it Album of the Year, The Sunday Times (London) listed it among their annual Top Ten albums list, and it won two Cubadisco Awards (the Cuban Grammys).