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Omar Sosa: Ayaguna

AAJ Staff By

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It's almost like the calm after the storm, but if you look carefully there are still whitecaps out there. Pianist Omar Sosa, who emigrated from Cuba eight years ago, launched his American recording career with the somewhat redundantly titled Omar Omar, an adventurous solo outing. His last three records (Bembon, Prietos, and Sentir) were incredibly ambitious ensemble affairs which brought together a virtual rainbow of New World styles drawing from common African roots. In each case, the intensity of the effort was mind-numbing.

And so it's a stark change to hear Sosa stretch out, linger on delicately held notes, ease in and out of the blues, and regularly inhabit a lower energy state. His partner on the live record Ayaguna is Venezuelan percussionist Gustavo Ovalles, who shares a certain affinity for making more music out of fewer notes. The two have performed together since 1999, so this isn't exactly a meeting out of the blue.

Once it's become clear that these two players will never approach the sheer power of Sosa's earlier groups, the experience becomes much more attuned to subtlety and flexibility. It's not a matter of attention deficit, but these two players just don't tend to hang onto themes or styles for very long. Ayaguna opens with a set of midrange clusters, some tinkering inside the piano, and gentle pattering accompaniment from Ovalles. These clusters acquire momentum, and before you know it both players are swinging like mad. Randy Weston leaps out of the closet and spare, blocky chords mark the winding path that lies ahead. A rather dramatic climax, then back to black reflection and it's all over.

The highlight of the record is "Africa Madre Viva," which makes use of the broader timbral range available to the percussionist. It seems more composed than much of the rest of this music, which tends at times toward free improv. A simple bluesy melody sails over an understated Cuban- flavored pulse. As the upbeat theme develops, it rapidly becomes a vehicle for downright giddy celebration (not to mention toe-tapping, dancing, or whatever it is you feel like doing at moments like this).

The lesson of Ayaguna is that Omar Sosa refuses to box himself in, even if the box is of his own construction. The wide-open nature of the music and the nuances of his interactions with Ovalles bring a welcome degree of unpredictability to a character who has come to define himself with that very adjective. This is brilliant stuff.

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Track Listing: Reflection 2. Una Tradicion Negra 3. Iyawo (Opening) 4. Dias de Iyawo 5. Africa Madre Viva 6. Trip in the White Scarf 7. Toridanz

Personnel: Omar Sosa--piano Gustavo Ovalles--drums

Title: Ayaguna | Year Released: 2003 | Record Label: Ota Records


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