His latest and most rigorous solo effort, Yo (Montuno/Concord), was released in the U.S. last month, and it bears very little resemblance to what he plays in BVSC, even if Cuban son remains a key strand in his musical DNA. Many young hotshot musicians with big ears attempt to incorporate global influences and ideas, but in most cases the efforts are transparent and labored—you can hear the addition signs of this + that = not so much. Fonseca is different, and Yo is packed with multifarious sources—Mande grooves on "Bibisa," which features clarion singing from Mali's remarkable Fatoumata Diawara, abstract spoken word from Mike Ladd on "Ni Nega Ave Maria," Arabic chant on "Chabani" (which features a terrific vocal performance by Faudel Amil), Moroccan rhythms on "Gnawa Stop," and more.
Yet the music never sounds like anything less than a product of Fonseca, not some calculated cultural mash-up. You can hear those varied influences, but they never impinge on the pianist's own hybrid vision. He sounds as if he's lived with these traditions for years and has thoroughly absorbed all of them into his aesthetic. At times there's more than a hint of Randy Weston in his playing, and while he possesses all of the flashy virtuosity of a Cuban pianist like Chucho Valdes, Fonseca opts for a more restrained approach, although that restraint hardly means introversion. As you can hear below on "80's," the track that opens the album with a bang, he truly uses the piano as a percussion instrument. His touring group is mostly from Cuba— drummer Ramses Rodriguez and the percussionist Joel Hierrezuelo, guitarist Jorge Chicoy and bassist Yandy Martinez—and its global feel should be seen with the presence of Malian kora player Yacouba Sissoko, but to break the personnel down by nationality is misguided with this guy.