On a fairly sunny but chilly evening in Leeds it was great to be transported to the more balmy climate of Havana for a magical evening of music from Roberto Fonseca and his fellow musicians; Yandy Rodriguez on electric bass and double bass, and Ruly Herrera on drums.

Despite the music taking us to the warmer climes of the Caribbean, the title of his latest album Yeshun, relates to water and is a contraction of the names Yemoja, the goddess of the seas, and Shun, goddess of the rivers. He told the audience that he wanted to compare the vitality and fluidity of water with that of music.

For those unfamiliar with Roberto Fonseca’s music, it is a fusion of many different types, being mainly modern jazz but heavily influenced by Afro-Cuban music – obviously – and hip hop, meaning that it is very accessible. His piano skills are wondrous ranging from classical concert techniques to pounding the keyboard as if it were a percussion instrument. The main element, however, is the beat which is incessant and forms a primal link with the listener whilst, at the same time, having a sophisticated side to appeal to the intellect.

Yandy Rodriguez with his six-string bass guitar.
Ruly Herrera

My favourite piece of the evening was their rendition of Bésame Mucho which began as a double bass solo from Yandy Rodriguez, the other two musicians having left the stage. After displaying his improvisational techniques the familiar strains of the tune began to seep through and the reappearance of Ruly Herrera adding a drum part and Roberto Fonseca the piano, the piece, which sounded as though it was about to be performed in the style of a cocktail lounge band, took flight in all directions. It was a wonderful example of both musicianship and theatre.

Another theatrical twist was the beginning of one of the numbers which was a recorded extract from a Winston Churchill speech. Not something you hear everyday in a Cuban jazz performance.

The rest of the set had the perfect balance between musical arrangement and improvisation with the band being as tight as Freddie Mercury’s catsuit. There was the odd look and nod of the head to signal change but mostly it felt as though there was an intuition providing cues. You can get away with the odd mistake when the music is constant but there were a couple of tunes which had momentary pauses coming when least expected and with no visible prompting, showing an innate understanding between the musicians, along with hours of practice and rehearsal of course.

I found it very difficult to sit still in the face of the sounds being produced but it didn’t matter as we were encouraged, not only to dance, which some people did, but to move about in our seats and even sing along. We were given a rudimentary course in Spanish and we were good to go. It wasn’t squirming in your seat type audience participation, but totally enthusiastic, thanks to the band’s personality and obvious love of the music.

Trying to describe music is like trying to put a smell into words so I will let Roberto Fonseca, do the job for me. Hey! if he’s going to get me to do the singing for him, he can do the explaining for me. This link will take you to his YouTube video of Aggua from the album https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T2u2sGsyzdQ

This concert was one of the most uplifting experiences I have had in a long time and just what was needed in these troubled times, although ironically, whilst writing this, I have had to call the plumber to fix a drainage problem so my attitude toward water has deteriorated somewhat since last night!

Before I end I would like to mention the warm-up act comprising a set from Tom Harris (piano) and Olivia Cuttill (trumpet). Tom is a Manchester based pianist and composer, who wrote most of the pieces in their set, the others being penned by Londoner Olivia, who is discerning enough to have moved to God’s Own County, to study at Leeds Conservatoire.

Tom Harris and Olivia Cuttill

They provided a great contrast to the headliners, being more laid back, rather than having the pulsating backing of Roberto Fonseca. They certainly enhanced the evening by their performance.

To read more about Roberto Fonseca and to see his tour dates please go to https://www.robertofonseca.com/en/

For forthcoming attractions at Howard Assembly Room the link is https://www.operanorth.co.uk/event-tag/har/

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