In his two hour set as part of the Montreal Jazz Festival, pianist Roberto Fonseca had a multi-point agenda. One was to win over the crowd with dazzling musicianship. He did this particularly on the faster Latin jazz numbers where, goaded by his drummer and hand percussionist, he worked angular melodies in odd time signatures, seemingly going roughshod over these intricate rhythms with energetic runs down the keyboard. He was well complimented by reedist Javier Zalba, who played alto and soprano saxophone as well as clarinet and flute. The band also included an upright bassist Omar Gonzalez, who at his best was a rhythmic lynchpin within the music.
The energy of Fonseca and the band was potent for the first two songs that were uptempo, but it was the third song, a ballad, that allowed the audience to come to the music, as opposed to being pinned against the wall. This versatility was a conscious but crucial part of Fonseca's music equation, and the mixing and matching of tempos and rhythms continued throughout and gave a nice overall balance to the set.
The third part of the agenda had more to do with the audience than the band - Fonseca, who had a likable and energetic stage persona, played to the audience with long spoken intros in Spanish. That he was doing this with an audience that mostly spoke French and English seemed a bit pointless, but he pushed on anyways. He ended the set with a couple of crowd participation gambits as well, which worked with the enthusiastic (almost too enthusiastic) audience, but it left others (including this journalist) feeling that it stretched the set unnecessarily long and ended the night on a flat note. Fonseca did return for an encore of solo piano, which was a better way to end, but by that point it was time to get out and take in the night air. The over-attention to the audience aside, this show did deliver on the promise of his Justin Time debut album, Zamaza, and his work on Ibrahim Ferrer's final album, Mi Sueno.