Omar Sosa: The Magic Piano Man and his Afreecanos Quartet

Bill Leikam By

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Sosa played both soft and lyrically, while at other times he made the Steinway sound like a clash of titans, especially when he used his elbow or his forearm on the keys.
Omar Sosa and his Afreecanos Quartet
Douglas Beach House
Half Moon Bay, San Francisco
March 29, 2009

Before doing live reviews, I never go to the web and check up on the band or the people that I will see perform, preferring not to have any preconceived expectations of the musicians or the music: in fact, ninety-five percent of the time I've never heard their music. All I know is that he or she is loosely cast in the jazz genre.

That's the way it was when, on March 29th, my son David and I went to the Douglas Beach House (aka the Bach Dancing & Dynamite Society) to hear Cuban-born Omar Sosa and his Afreecanos Quartet. (Sosa now lives in Barcelona, Spain.) The band consisted of the noted Afro-Latin percussionist John Santos, Mozambican electric/acoustic bassist, and vocalist Childo Tomas, saxophonist and flautist Peter Apfelbaum. (That evening he played a variety of woodwinds, with Sosa on a Steinway concert grand and Fender Rhodes.)

Upon Sosa's entry onto the legendary boutique stage, dressed in a flowing white dashiki, matching circular headdress, Santeria beads, carrying a lit votive candle, a shawl, and two images, he carefully placed them on the piano before commencing with his performance, leaning over into the piano's interior and plucking the strings. Percussionist Santos was also on stage with Sosa, playing an array of acoustic percussive instruments and singing. From a bank of electronic sample triggers and sequencers Sosa had mounted above the piano's keyboard, Santos and Sosa played with each other. Before the piece was half over, Tomas and Apfelbaum had joined the two on stage and took the first composition to an astoundingly abrupt end, directed by Sosa.

What an opening display of creativity that flowed from the quartet. He seemingly tells stories through his fingers. The interplay between the band members simply added to the magic on stage. Sosa and Tomas had a special connection as each in turn seemed to urge the other onwards with a call-and-response style of play. It was obvious that the band was having fun—big grins across the stage, nods—and sometimes a call from Sosa over to Santos. By the second piece, the audience was clapping in time with the rhythm, as they joined in with the musical festivities that enveloped the Douglas Beach House.

Later, I read what others had said about Sosa. Neil Porter of the New York Daily News wrote of Sosa's performance in New York City at the Blue Note, "Sosa's left hand (on the sampler) and right (at the piano) seemed at times to be locked in their own lively exchange. And, like a force of nature, it was beguiling and beautiful and yet it all made perfect sense. The melodies flowed from Sosa's fingers like water. Or was that the digital sample of forest and steam noises that seeped in and out throughout the spellbinding session?" I could not have said it better: at times it was impossible to tell whether the electronics were leading the way or whether the band led the electronics.

Omar Sosa

Sosa played both soft and lyrically, while at other times he made the Steinway sound like a clash of titans, especially when he used his elbow or his forearm on the keys. The spectrum of music, from compositions to improvisational "conversations," along with his ingenious use of electronics, set Sosa apart from any other jazz musician I've ever heard. He is truly magical when he performs. As the evening came to closure, the audience sat enraptured by the unusual and involving display they had just witnessed and indeed were a part of. They rose from their chairs with a thunderous and prolonged ovation, calling for an encore, which Sosa and his remarkable band performed with an interesting short piece that sustained the supreme quality of Omar Sosa and his Afreecanos Quartet.

Photo Credit

Andy Nozaka



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