Omar Sosa performs tonight at the Dakota Jazz Club
From his opening notes, it’s clear that Afro-Cuban pianist, composer and arranger Omar Sosa has a distinct vision, one that reconnects African music from around the globe with the African continent.
It’s a worldview Sosa delivered remarkably in a performance at the Dakota Jazz Club on Wednesday night.
Sosa started with Intro to Elegua, an acknowledgment of the Santeria deity that opens doors. A practitioner of the Yoruba-based religion and a Catholic, the pianist left no doubt that he would use melody and percussion to explore new musical terrain.
With a light touch, Sosa coaxed listeners into a ceremony that was both thoughtful and celebratory, quickly making room for his three accompanists to join him on percussion and horns.The pianist switched back and forth from acoustic to electric piano, but also used a variety of special effects boxes near the piano, along with recorded voices and assorted sounds.
As the airy feeling faded, the ensemble with the big-band sound took off on a roaring flight on Metisse, with thundering playing by Marque Gilmore on drums and Childo Tomas on electric bass, and extended solos by Peter Apfelbaum on saxophone.
Inventive, intricately arranged and pan-African, their tunes juxtaposed expressions of tranquility and forcefulness.
Throughout the 90-minute second set, Sosa showed agility and inventiveness, fusing Afro-Cuban romps, with straight-ahead jazz runs and jazz fusion. Going where the spirits led him, he played with emotion and zeal, sometimes spinning around as if in an emotional trance and delighting in his discoveries.
At times, Sosa evoked a young Herbie Hancock, blending funk into his repertoire. At others, he reminded concert-goers of his experiments with hip-hop, playing percussive licks on his face with his hands, as Tomas played the role of human beat box.
Sosa’s performance, the second I’ve seen in the last several years, showed remarkable growth for the pianist from Camaguey, Cuba, whose experiments with a variety of genres places him among world’s most innovative jazz musicians.
Delivering his compositions as mini suites, he told complex musical stories, varying tempo and rhythm, and mixing the Cuban genres of danzon, cha, cha, cha and son with straight-ahead jazz. Linking them all were powerful syncopated rhythms and the call of Africa.
Toward the end of his show, as one concert-goer complained about another’s enthusiastic but appropriate responses to the music’s call, Sosa told them what his music is all about: peace and love.
He then took them to church with a tune from his 2008 recording Afreecanos: Light in the Sky. Both ancestral and futuristic, it was a nice summation of Sosa’s approach.