Omar Sosa delights at the Dakota

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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.

  • Elliot Park

    I attended 3 of the Omar Sosa sets this week at the Dakota and I could not disagree with you more about the inappropriate audience participation that prompted one vigilante patron to speak out against the offensive and disrespectful behavior by the member of the audience that you describe as “enthusiastic.” Earlier in the week Arturo Sandoval had a meltdown on that same stage because of similar behavior from enthusiastic audience members. This is an ongoing problem where people do not have any respect for others in the audience who came to hear the performer. There seems to be a misconception that purchasing a ticket grants you a license to behave any way you deem appropriate. The Dakota is a listening room. People pay steep prices for the opportunity to listen to artist in an intimate setting. The enthusiastic gentleman that you are defending spent the entire performance talking over the music and carrying on a running 90 minute conversation with his companions. They were texting, passing their cell phones around the table, constantly flagging the staff to attend to their needs. They got up from their table directly in front of the stage, put their jackets on, went outside to smoke in the middle of the set then paraded back into the club, took their jackets off and picked up talking right where they left off. All of this behavior is distracting if not to the performers than most certainly to the audience who are trying to listen to the music.

  • David Cazares

    After the show, Omar had a different reaction — essentially that fans enjoy performances in different ways. I sat toward the back and was focusing intently on the music so I may not have been as distracted. I do think there’s something to think about here: whether jazz is meant to be mostly a listening experience or one that can invite some response from the audience, beyond polite clapping. Sorry I missed Arturo’s show. Having seen him several times, I can imagine him responding that way.