Live Music + Gig Reviews

Roberto Fonseca + Mayra Andrade @ Royal Festival Hall, London

14 November 2009

Roberto FonsecaTwo very modest, international stars and their bands tonight won over an audience with their magnanimous charm and undoubted breadth and finesse of their skills.

Mayra Andrade, the young, Cuban-born, Cape Verde-raised, Parisian vocalist and Roberto Fonseca, the Cuban pianist famed for replacing legendary Buena Vista Social Club pianist Ruben Gonzales, joined forces to become a sure highlight of 2009’s London Jazz Festival.

Andrade opened with a mix of tracks from both her new album Stria, Stria and her debut, Navega. With hair tied back and wearing a colourful glittering dress, the 24-year-old underlined her cosmopolitan heritage with material drawing on jazz, bossa nova and salsa.

From the new album she performed Odjus Fitchadu and the title track. Despite her prowess across genres this new material lacked something. Impeccably rehearsed, the songs rarely seemed to charge with emotion as she breezed through the set.

Her soft dance moves and smooth vocals where only once disturbed when she caught the mic on the stand and disconnected the cord. Blushing with good humour and humility, she apologized for being human and received a round of appreciative applause.

Highlights came from the band. Ze Luis Nascimento remains an astonishing, visceral and joyful percussionist to hear and see perform. His enjoyment in creating his vigorous sound is contagious. Etienne M’bapp, credited as one of the world’s finest bass guitar players, performs in black leather gloves. His solo moments and an improvised duet with Andrade suggested his style choice needn’t be questioned.

Roberto Fonseca, his face shadowed by a wide rimmed hat, closed the show in dazzling style. Performing songs from his new album Akokan (Yoruban for heart) he too covered a range of styles. Moving from heavy jazz with Coltrane influences to conga and the soulful longings of Cuban folk songs like Drume Negrita, the speed and deftness of those fingers across piano keys whipped up a whirlwind of sounds dizzying in their aural assault.

Again most striking was the chemistry within the band. They presented an absolutely instinctive, almost spookily professional synchronization in improvisation. Ramses Rodriguez and Javier Zalba could have performed shows of their own. Zalba, a multi-instrumentalist on clarinet, saxophone and flute, earns superlatives galore. Rodriguez on percussion received a standing ovation mid-performance, an honour not accorded lightly.

Duing the encore Fonseca dared the audience not to dance as he started to play familiar bars from Buena Vista Social Club tracks. But before things headed completely into nostalgia, host Gilles Petersen brought on rappers Ogguere and vocalist Danay from his Havana Cultura project, closing a night that was as much about showcasing Cuba’s diverse talents as it was about jazz.

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Roberto Fonseca + Mayra Andrade @ Royal Festival Hall, London