Review by Brad Walseth
I'm a little bit taken aback by the dearth of information about Latin Jazz violinist Pedro Alfonso on the Internet, especially when you take his obvious talent into account, but America sadly is a very self-obsessed nation when it comes to music (and everything else). The Cuban-born musician 'arrived' in the U.S. in 1998 and has taken the Latin scene by storm, appearing on Grammy-Award winning recordings by Gloria Estefan, Shakira and Bacilos. The violin virtuso has appeared on over 80 recordings and has toured with Estefan, Shaikira, Bacilos, Julio Iglesias, Tito Nieves, Ricky Martin, Thalia, Jose Feliciano, Jon Secada and many more. With his first solo album, "Strings to Your Heart," Alfonso displays his highly trained mastery of the strings, as well as handling keyboards, programming, vocals and songwriting duties. The music is exciting and romantic by turns, and features people like Al DiMeola on guitar and Paquito D'Rivera on sax, yet this talented artist unfairly seems to be flying below the American public’s radar.
Uptempo numbers like opener "Cuerdas Locas" highlight the danceable energy that Latin music is known for, while ballads like "Deep Breath" allow Alfonso to milk his strings for every ounce of emotion. In fact, his version of the Journey popular hit "Open Arms" could easily be a hit on contemporary radio. Alfonso’s production is smooth and clean, while he overdubs his voice to produce unique harmonies. DiMeola plays some burning guitar, but it is primarily in a supportive role in the mix. Songs like "Oil for Fools" cross classical sounding violin riffs (think Hungarian Dances) with simmering Latin rhythms and Mid Eastern tonality in a compelling and original blend. "Little Havana," "The Next One," "The Big Mountain" and "The Sunday After" combine traditional Afro-Cuban and Latin musical styles with modern technology quite successfully. "La Comparsa" reminds me of the Chilean mountain peaks (his bio notes that he lived and taught in Chile for several years), while his cover of "My Funny Valentine" is clever and fresh.
So where is the buzz? Is it the American anathema to anything outside North American culture, violins that aren't fiddles, or Alfonso’s somewhat unusual vocals and blend of Latin and modern? I can't really answer why Alfonso hasn’t caught on yet, but perhaps he will after all. He certainly has the talent and I can say I will be pulling for him to make a splash.