Roberto FonsecaPlaying to a capacity crowd at the Melbourne Recital Centre, pianist Roberto Fonseca quickly showed why he is one of the most highly regarded musicians of his generation. Together with a skilled four piece band, he presented an accomplished set marked by great power, precision and virtuosity. His Cuban background is augmented by influences from Brazil and Africa, and the effect is of a continual rhythmic brilliance.

The concert began with a slow, rubato build into an exhilarating percussive piece, somewhat marred by over-amplification in the opening section; even my writing pad was vibrating. The later, quite lengthy items showcased other members of the band, the drummer, percussionist, bassist and an accomplished player from Mali, all overseen by the masterful Fonseca, who contributed one dazzling solo after another on his adapted piano, using many keyboard settings, recorded voices, and at times his own, live.

Only a few pieces featured all five players, usually someone wandered off stage at the end of one, sometimes two people did, and at several points there was the ‘duelling instrumentalists’ situation, seemingly unavoidable in modern jazz.

Improvisatory jazz can actually be a bit exasperating at times; a rhythm clearly set up, and which the audience is invited to clap to, is suddenly, almost perversely broken, a tribute to the musicians’ skill, but a little tricksy nevertheless.

Further, Fonseca’s well-publicised links with the Buena Vista Social Club are misleading, if you expect something like that film’s clear song structures and easily grasped melody lines.

The atmosphere engendered by the band is one of excitement which, interestingly, becomes a little relentless. For me, therefore, the stand out piece was the second last, low-key, lyrical, wandering, with a wistful and clearly discerned melody. Here at last was something that drew you in, rather than demanded – and deserved – instant admiration.

But most of the crowd did not appear to have my reservations, and applauded enthusiastically at the close, even the two people on either side who had already spent far too many minutes on their flashing mobile phones.

Melbourne Recital Centre & Alison Pearl present
Roberto Fonseca

Venue: Elisabeth Murdoch Hall
Date: Tuesday 11 March, 2014
Tickets: $55 – $35
Bookings: | 9699 3333

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