Six-time GRAMMY-nominated Cuban composer and pianist Omar Sosa is one of the most versatile jazz artists on the scene today. He fuses a wide range of jazz, world music, and electronic elements with his native Afro-Cuban roots to create a fresh and original urban sound – all with a Latin jazz heart. Mr. Sosa’s latest recording, Calma, reached the Billboard charts in February 2011, and his previous CD, Ceremony, receive an ECHO Jazz Award in Germany in June 2011 His recent CD, Afreecanos, explores the African roots of traditional musics throughout the Diaspora, using modern jazz harmonies and the latest audio technology. The Afreecanos ensemble fuses the folkloric with the contemporary, the ancestral with the urban. Howard Reich of the Chicago Tribune recently commented that “Cuban pianists often tower over their peers. But within this elite class of pianists, few have been more stylistically adventurous than Omar Sosa. Though deeply schooled in jazz improvisation techniques, Sosa always has pushed beyond jazz orthodoxy.
At his best, his art encompasses a remarkable range of influences: European symphonic repertoire, religious music of Gnawa, traditional sounds of Senegal and other far-flung idioms have coursed through his work. All of which piques one’s interest in his newest ensemble.”
Omar Sosa’s musical trajectory has taken him from Camagüey and Havana to touring in Angola, the Congo, Ethiopia, and Nicaragua in the 1980s; to a sojourn in the African-descent communities of Ecuador in the early 1990s; to an extended presence on the San Francisco Bay Area Latin jazz scene; to his current engagement with artists from France, Cuba, Brazil, and several North, West, and East African nations. His career embodies the expansive outlook of a visionary artist who has taken Monk’s uncompromising spirit to heart, while working ceaselessly to craft and project a unique, cosmopolitan voice.
Omar Sosa’s latest studio album, Eggun: The Afri-Lectric Experience, was released worldwide in February 2013. Eggun, in the West African spiritual practice of Ifa and its various expressions throughout the African Diaspora, are the spirits of those who have gone before us, both in our personal families and those who serve as our Spirit guides.
The Omar Sosa Afri-Lectric Experience began as a commission from the Barcelona Jazz Festival in 2009. The assignment: to compose and produce a tribute performance to Miles Davis’ classic Kind Of Blue recording on the occasion of its 50th anniversary. Inspired by various musical elements and motifs from Kind Of Blue, Omar wrote a suite of music honoring the spirit of freedom in Davis’ seminal work. Featuring trumpet and two saxophones, Eggun provides a medium for musical elements from Africa to shape and develop the music, and the resulting jazz textures are further enriched by the subtle and expressive use of electronic elements. At the heart of the recording is the spirit of Mother Africa.
Following the success of the Kind Of Blue commission, Omar began to include the new arrangements into the repertoire of his regular touring ensemble, resulting in the creation of the The Afri-Lectric Experience. The featured horn players are Joo Kraus on trumpet (from Germany), Leandro Saint-Hill on saxophones and flute (from Cuba), and Peter Apfelbaum on saxophones and percussion (from U.S.A.). Omar’s longtime rhythm section of Marque Gilmore on drums (from U.S.A.) and Childo Tomas on electric bass (from Mozambique) create the foundation.
Special guests on the project include Lionel Loueke on guitars (from Benin), Marvin Sewell on guitars (from U.S.A.), Pedro Martinez on Afro-Cuban percussion (from Cuba), John Santos on percussion (from U.S.A.) and Gustavo Ovalles on Afro-Venezuelan percussion (from Venezuela). The CD was recorded primarily in Brooklyn, NY.
Mr. Sosa’s latest CD on Otá Records, Afreecanos, features the ensemble performing this evening: Cuban drummer, Julio Barreto, Mozambican electric bassist, Childo Tomas, and Senegalese vocalist, Mola Sylla. Recorded with a live audience at the NDR radio studios in Hamburg, Germany, the CD also features noted Italian trumpet player, Paolo Fresu, and Cuban flute player Leandro Saint-Hill. This live recording anticipates the release in February 2008 of Omar Sosa’s next studio album, entitled Afreecanos.
Writing about Mr. Sosa’s new Afreecanos ensemble, Howard Reich of the Chicago Tribune recently commented that “Cuban pianists often tower over their peers. But within this elite class of pianists, few have been more stylistically adventurous than Omar Sosa. Though deeply schooled in jazz improvisation techniques, Sosa always has pushed beyond jazz orthodoxy. At his best, his art encompasses a remarkable range of influences: European symphonic repertoire, religious music of Gnawa, traditional sounds of Senegal and other far-flung idioms have coursed through his work. All of which piques one’s interest in his newest ensemble, Afreecanos Quartet.” And writing recently in the Chicago Reader, Neil Tesser comments that “Cuban pianist Omar Sosa enjoys a well-deserved reputation for following his own path. Where most of his compatriots attack every chorus with the urgent intensity of a dying man, he incorporates space and light into his virtuosic playing, which links him both to older Cuban forms and to the mysteries of postmodern jazz.”
Mr. Sosa’s music is a unique style of Afro-Cuban jazz, and while it is rooted in the folkloric traditions of the African Diaspora, he always takes an exploratory approach – never one to let orthodoxy stand in the way of his pursuit of freedom. Sosa offers a joyful mix of jazz and Afro-Caribbean rhythms, combining percussive forays inside the piano and a series of electronic effects with his inspired, passionate playing at the keyboard. His tempos are fluid, and his moods change freely. Mr. Sosa revels in the irresistible clave grooves of Latin jazz, while adding experimental touches to keep his listeners on their toes.
Omar Sosa has released 18 recordings on the Oakland-based Otá Records label since 1997, including 2004’s GRAMMY-nominated Mulatos, featuring Latin jazz master Paquito D’Rivera on clarinet. The recording is an adventurous, finely wrought, and wholly delightful mélange of Cuban jazz, Latin dance grooves, French chanson, North African trance music, and European folk. It dances with rhythmic inspirations of Indian tabla, jazz drums, and studio mixing. Also featured is the delicate voice of the Arabic lute, the oud, and the composer himself on marimba. Mulatos was nominated for Latin Jazz Album of the Year by the NYC-based Jazz Journalists Association. Mr. Sosa also received a GRAMMY nomination for his 2002 recording, Sentir; a lifetime achievement award from the Smithsonian Institution in 2003 for his contribution to Latin jazz in the United States; as well as two nominations from the BBC Radio 3 Awards for World Music.
Mr. Sosa performed in 2003 with his Octet at the opening of Carnegie Hall’s new Zankel Hall, about which Alex Ross of The New Yorker remarked that Sosa has “a ferocious flair for rhythm and a keen musical wit”. Composer John Adams, who curated the opening of Carnegie Hall’s new venue, commented that “Sosa is a deeply creative musician with an extraordinary harmonic sense. His piano playing is sui generis: It has obvious roots in Cuban music, but he’s taken his approach to the keyboard into completely new regions”. And Don Heckman of The Los Angeles Times recently wrote “Sosa’s vision of contemporary jazz reaches across every imaginable boundary”.