One pleasure of writing about music is “discovering” talent deserving broader recognition. More often than not, new talent, but occasionally an established artist who mysteriously falls through the cracks.
I came to the music of ALFONSO FUENTES through the Puerto Rican icon WILLIAM CEPEDA, who featured the pianist on a bonus track on (the DVD) Bomba Jazz (Casabe Records).
Fuentes was born and raised in Puerto Rico. He is a composer, pianist and Associate Professor of Orchestration and Composition at the Music Conservatory of Puerto Rico. He draws inspiration from a wide variety of styles and expresses his “Puerto Ricanness” through classical music, North American jazz, tropical music, folklore, and international influences.
He is best known for his work with chamber ensembles and symphony orchestras and oddly is better known in China, with who he shares a special relationship than in the U.S.
Plena, Improvisaciones Para Piano is his first “commercial” recording. Also, it marks a significant first step in the evolution of his career. The title (Plena) refers to the popular folkloric rhythm known as “the sung newspaper.” According to Fuentes, It is also a musical gift during times of joy and pain.
Improvisaciones Para Piano was recorded at the Puerto Rico Conservatory of Music in sessions going back to 2009. Except for the melody, “Cortaron a Elena“ (They Cut Elena, click to listen), popularized by Manuel Jiménez “Canario” and Cortijo and his Combo) the material is performed spontaneously and at the moment.
Montuno #1 and #2 compare elements of Salsa and Latin Jazz; Memories Campesinas (Countryside Memories) consists of variations of the Puerto Rican Seises, the Celinés, and the Milonga; Plena Por Pensamiento (Plena for critical thinkers) is just that!
Alfonso’s past presentations include television programs, soap operas, and jingles. Also, he has accompanied Nydia Caro, Placido Domingo, Ednita Nazario Yolandita Monk, Iris Chacon, Danny Rivera, and Andy Montanez among others.
Plena: Improvisaciones Para Piano is not “typical” Puerto Rican music, nor is it meant to be. It stands on its own. In my opinion, it is one of the most important recordings to come out of Puerto Rico in recent years. Highly recommended.