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 and multi-instrumentalist William Cepeda, who featured him on the DVD titled, Bomba Jazz (Casabe Records), where he masterfully interpreted the Puerto Rican Bomba, Ven y Baila Maria.
Alfonso 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 who 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. Also, he is better known in China – with who he shares a special relationship – than in the States. Plena, Improvisaciones Para Piano is Alfonso’s is his first “commercial” recording and a first step in gaining the recognition he deserves.
PLENA (the title) refers to the popular rhythm associated with topics of the day (thus, the “sung newspaper”). Lesser known but as important, Plena 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 dating to 2009. Except for the melody, Cortaron a Elena (They Cut Elena), popularized by Manuel Jiménez “Canario” and Cortijo and his Combo) the material is performed spontaneously.
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! And though Cortaron a Elena is the exception to the rule, Alfonso’s interpretation is exciting and intriguing.
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.
This is not “typical” Puerto Rican music, nor is it meant to be. The music stands on its own and demonstrates to the world, the music of Puerto Rico is boundless!