Omar Sosa: Bembón

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Try to pin Omar Sosa down, and he'll wriggle away. The styles Sosa uses for composition encompass sounds from all over the Americas and Africa. The Cuban pianist relocated in 1995 to the San Francisco Bay area, where he recruited his working quintet. But in order to make Bembón, Sosa took his group on the road to Quito, Ecuador. Quito was not necessarily the best choice for music production, from the practical standpoint—but it offered total immersion in Ecuadoran culture. As a result, this disc is drenched with the pulse and sway of Esmeraldas and Chota. (As well as Sosa's by-now trademark multicultural blend of Afro-American, -Cuban, and -Caribbean traditions. Jazz merges on Bembón with coros Esmeraldeños, West African polyrhythms, rap, and a variety of other flavors.)

Each tune on Bembón employs a different cast of players and explores a unique sound. "Negros" offers an unusual collection of arranged horns and strings supporting silky female vocals and rhythmic piano improvisation. On "Marimchacha," a catchy percussion groove plays off the "cha-cha-cha" vocal theme, interlaced with booty-shakin' flute and string melodies. Vocalist Will Power elaborates the story of a young city boy's introduction to the countryside on the lyrically beautiful "Campos Verdes": "the boy thought he was in a dream—because as far as the eye could see, there was nothing but green." In an ironic sense, this anthem embodies the spirit of Omar Sosa's music. While thoroughly cosmopolitan and sophisticated, Sosa connects at a very basic level with fundamental elements of simple living. Worldwise and street-smart, Sosa does not hesitate to call upon Elleguá—Yoruba god and personal protector.

The interlocked string and horn arrangements on Bembón are new features in Sosa's recorded work. Their presence on this disc provide an unusual degree of fluidity, smoothing things over where drums and percussion might otherwise create ragged edges. The relatively delicate and deliberate moods here offer more subtlety and less punch than other Sosa records. Whether or not you prefer this particular Quito-flavored disc probably depends on whether you like your music sweet or spicy.

Track Listing: Negros; Para Dos Parados; Lapiz En Pigalle; Marimchacha; Juntos; Dame Un Tiempo; Campos Verdes; Narcisa Con Yalode; Gracias Se�or; Bembón; Torbelegg.

Personnel: Omar Sosa: piano, marimba, bombo, esmeralde�o, guaz�; Elliot Kavee: drums; Geoff Brennan: acoustic bass; Sheldon Brown: soprano, alto, and tenor saxophones, clarinet and bass clarinet; Will Power: rap vocals. Plus 17 guests.

Title: Bembón | Year Released: 2001 | Record Label: Ota Records


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