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Alfonso Fuentes: “Improvisaciones Para Piano”

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A distinct pleasure of writing about music is – for lack of a better term – “discovering” talent deserving of broader recognition. 

Recently, while viewing a video related to William Cepeda’s educational series, La Musica de Puerto Rico Raices y Evolucion, I was struck by pianist, composer, and arranger Alfonso Fuentes’ breathtaking interpretation of the classic Puerto Rican Plena, Cortaron a Elena.  

Shortly after, I learned about Fuentes’ debut recording as a soloist titled Plena, Improvisaciones Para Piano (Hyperunison, LLC), whose title is named after the music genre from his country that uses the beat of the panderetas (Puerto Rican hand drums) accompanied by the lead voice and repetitive choruses that announce and denounce social issues, also known as “the sung newspaper.” 

The repertoire, which is diverse, exciting, and consists of mostly original compositions, expresses Fuentes’s Caribbean, Antillean, and Puerto Rican roots and Latin American surroundings. 

It is worth noting that the repertoire was conceived and recorded impromptu in three sessions and two locales. Also, Fuentes recorded the tunes on the fly, without preparation or forethought. 

The tunes, Cortaron a Elena and Plena for Critical Thinkers, abstractly revolve around the popular Plena beat. Montuno Number 1 and 2 fuse variations of Salsa and Latin Jazz. Memorias Campesina has a Romantic, European feel; however, the underlying rhythms are a combination of Puerto Rican Seis, Milonga, and Celines. Walking Bass contains North American Jazz and Arabic music elements brought to Puerto Rico by the Spanish conquest and waves of migration. La Ponchinela de Cangrejos pays tribute to the dancer Maria Ortiz Sadmones (aka La Ponchinela), born in Santurce (formerly known as Cangrejos) at the end of the 19th century. Fuentes dedicates the tune, Cancion Para Thais to his daughter.

What to make of Fuentes’ bold debut and visionary “Puerto Ricanness?” Improvisaciones Para Piano marks the arrival of an artist whose music transcends categories and dispels misconceptions about what Puerto Rican music is and is not. It’s not “typical Puerto Rican music,” nor is it meant to be. It is a master at work, playing music that is part of him, freely and joyously! 

Alfonso Fuentes is also an educator, writer, poet, and photographer. He is married, has three children, and lives in his beloved Puerto Rico.

ARTIST WEBSITE, click HERE

ARTICLE UPDATED 7/21/2022

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