Omar Sosa Residency at SFJAZZ

Harry S. Pariser By

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Omar Sosa Residency
Spring Season
San Francisco, CA
April 21-23, 2017

"You don't really listen to an Omar Sosa concert so much as experience it. The Cuban-born pianist's overall demeanor exudes a sense of calm and deep reflection, while a spiritual connection to music and his ancestors comes through in his piano playing." —NPR Music

At the commencement of each evening of his four-night residency at SFJAZZ, Omar Sosa, clad entirely in his trademark white, gown-like attire with flat-topped white cap, entered the stage holding a lighted white candle which he placed on his piano. Then, with his left hand, he serenely fingered his Yamaha Motif XF8 while playing a Yamaha CFX Concert Grand piano with his right. A Fender Rhodes was under the Motif, while an 88A Micro Korg was mounted in the center, as was a GoPro video camera.

Sosa is no stranger to San Francisco, where SFJAZZ has its concert hall. A native of Camaguey, Cuba, Sosa first arrived in the city in 1995 and put up roots before moving to Barcelona, Spain in 1999. The first two evenings featured his Bay Area collaborator John Santos, as well as a guest appearance on the second evening by trombonist and recording engineer Jeff Cressman. Santos, in addition to being a bandleader (Orquesta Batachanga, Machete Ensemble, John Santos Quartet), is also a music educator and board member at SFJAZZ.

Appropriately, given his espousal of the Afro-Cuban and Afro-Puerto Rican religion Santería, Sosa began with an invocation to Elegua, the Orisha of the roads and crossroads, whose spirit must be invoked at the commencement of a ceremony or ritual. As Santos intoned in Yoruba and Congo, Sosa clapped his hands. Mozambique native Childo Tomas entered with a twirling tube and then thumbed a pickup-equipped kalimba (mbira, thumb piano), which he held sideways as he played.

The two other members of Quarteto AfroCubano, drummer Ernesto Simpson and saxophonist/flautist Leandro Saint-Hill, then entered and took their places; the beat swerved towards funk, with Sosa standing and taking a bow at the end. As the keyboardist's "Mi Conga" commenced, Sosa chanted, while Simpson turned to mallets and then sticks before Saint-Hill pierced the mix with some lovely flute playing. The band's chants of "cha cha cha," with its dynamic rhythms, drove two women out of their seats situated directly above and to the rear of the ensemble, dancing in tandem. Saint-Hill then turned back to his flute. The audience joined in, clapping hands.

Next up was Sosa's atmospheric "Iyawo," which featured Saint-Hill on evocative soprano saxophone. Santos moved forward on the stage with an intriguing shaman-like staff which produced shimmers of sound, empowered by its attached cymbals. The collaboration went on in a similar vein, through "My Three Notes," "A Love Lost," "Sad Meeting" and, finally, "Old Afro a Baba," before a standing ovation brought Santos and Simpson back for a duet on "Muevete en D."

The next night saw Sosa again bring his white candle, place it on the piano and stand to and play his synthesizer and piano. It was the beginning of a night with the very special JOG Trio. The group features German trumpeter (and rapper) Joo Kraus and well-known percussionist Mino Cinelu. Whereas Kraus played on Sosa's commissioned CD Eggun (Ota Records, 2012) (a tribute to Miles Davis' classic 1959 Columbia album A Kind of Blue), the Martinique-born Cinelu has played with both Davis and Weather Report, as well as Pat Metheny, Christian McBride, Geri Allen, Sting, World Trio, Kenny Barron and many others.

In addition to percussion classics, such as mounted African djembe, Cinelu held forth on a Zildjan Constantinople cymbal (an instrument renowned for its purity of tone), the Roland SPD-SX (a mounted sampling pad), and a Roland HPD-20 (a digital hand percussion instrument)—both of which he employed to prodigious effect.

The evening featured two sets. The first offered sublime tonal flavors which brought the members' Miles Davis connections to mind. Cinelu soloed on triangle and held the djembe; Sosa reached inside his piano to whisk the strings; and Kraus added effects to his trumpet. Cinelu paid tribute in a chant-song to the "spirit of the drum," sitting atop his cajón and riffing with Sosa. The vibrant mix came to a frothy climax, with Sosa and the other musicians shaking hands.


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