One pleasure of writing about music is discovering talent deserving of broader recognition. Mostly, new talent, but every now and then I come across an established artist like the pianist, composer, arranger, professor, poet Alfonso Fuentes, who, for one reason or another, escapes me.
An Associate Professor of Orchestration and Composition at the Music Conservatory of Puerto Rico, Fuentes, draws inspiration from a wide variety of styles and expresses, what he describes as, his “Puerto Ricanness” through the guise of classical music, North American jazz, third-stream, tropical music folklore, and international influences. He is best known for his work with chamber ensembles and symphony orchestras and has a significant following in China, with who he shares a special relationship.
PLENA, IMPROVISACIONES PARA PIANO, marks a significant step in Fuente’s musical evolution, and it’s his first commercial (non-classical) recording. The title is a reference to the popular folkloric rhythm known as Plena, El Periodico Cantado (the Sung Newspaper).
The album was recorded at Puerto Rico’s Conservatory of Music in sessions dating back to 2009. With the exception of the tune, Cortaron a Elena (They Cut Elena), popularized by Manuel Jiménez “Canario” and Cortijo and his Combo the material is original and performed spontaneously.
Montuno 1 and 2 compares and contrasts elements of Salsa and Latin Jazz; Memorias Campesinas (Countryside Memories) fuses Puerto Rican seises, Celinés, and Milonga; Plena Por Pensamiento (Plena for Critical thinkers) is self-explanatory.
Fuentes’ past presents include television, soap operas, and jingles. Also, he has performed with Nydia Caro, Placido Domingo, Ednita Nazario Yolandita Monk, Iris Chacon, Danny Rivera, and Andy Montanez among others.
If you’re looking for “typical” Puerto Rican music, you’d be better served looking elsewhere. Rather, Fuentes’ style and material stand on its own. It’s no wonder the album is described as, “Unclassifiable, memorable, destined to excel in the history of Puerto Rican music.”
Alfonso Fuentes is an unsung national treasure and Improvisaciones Para Piano is an instant classic. Highly recommended.
ARTIST WEBSITE http://alfonsofuentes.com