Everything about the music of Omar Sosa seems not only to say that “Tradition is a wonderful reality,” but also something else: “not understanding that the inner dynamic of tradition is always to innovate, is a prison.” Mr Sosa had broken out of that proverbial prison a long time ago – since the early part of the 90’s, in fact. Today as then, the Cuban composer and sublimely gifted pianist has chiselled his uniquely beautiful, but defiantly provocative, body of work from out of the bedrock of the Afri-centric Caribbean tradition. But while that might imply a pastiche of archetypal Caribbean-Cuban models, such as son, danzón, guaguancó and calypso and so on, instead Mr Sosa has forced his listeners to reconsider what tradition is.
Editor’s Pick · Featured Album · Omar Sosa & NDR Big Band: es:sensual
And so, as in his Free Roots (1997), Mulatos (2004), Across the Divide (2009) and Ilé with his heavy, über-percussive pianism – combined on a previous occasion with the arranging and conducting ingenuity of Jaques Morelenbaum on an earlier disc, Ceremony (2010) – Mr Sosa and his small ensemble continues to position himself in creative conflict with age-old protocols about how Afri-centric Caribbean music “ought” to work in another large setting such as this one with the NDR Big Band, where his music has once again been arranged and conducted by Mr Morelenbaum.
By actively throwing overboard melodic, structural and harmonic hooks that have become expressively blunted through overuse, Mr Sosa – with the sophisticated and sleek arrangements of Mr Morelenbaum conducting one of the finest big bands in Europe, Hamburg’s NDR Bigband (North German Norddeut7scher Rundfunk) – has made new his music from what might – or might not – be left. “Glu-Glu” and “Iyade” are two such examples that leap out at the listener to highlight exactly this. Both contain the instinctive radicalism that created a revolutionising effect on Mr Sosa’s music as he leaped into the musical continuum that included not only the icons of Santeria – the religion in which he is a powerful spiritual presence – but also the art of his piano and band-leading forebears such as Arsenio Rodriguez, Peruchin, Frank Emilio Flynn and others.
Puréeing their sublime gestures into agitatedly ticking motor rhythms overlaid onto the volatile jabbering white noise of worshipful chants and percussive theatrics of Ernesto Simpson and Marcio Doctor, Mr Sosa also wrenches his instrument apart and blows his way through the debris. The result is that at the end of this hour or so of mesmerising music is that Mr Sosa succeeds playing this music in liquid, rustling arrangements with Mr Morelenbaum conducting the NDR Bigband, we have a dominating reinforcement of Mr Sosa’s credo that “the inner dynamic of tradition is to innovate” with music that is disturbing, yet authentically beautiful. So beautifully, in fact, that with soloists from the Bigband and soli by Mr Sosa himself we are privileged to be in the presence of an uncompromising master musician, who is changing the music he was born to play with genius and a powerful spirit.
It bears mention that the album was dedicated to a member of the NDR Bigband – first tenor saxophonist Lutz Büchner, who played on the recording, but passed away in March 2016, before the release of es:sensual.
Track list – 1: Cha Cha Du Nord; 2: Reposo; 3: L3zero; 4: My Three Notes; 5: Glu-Glu; 6: Iyade; 7: Anguistado; 8: Sad Meeting
Personnel – Omar Sosa: piano, percussion and vibraphone; Thorsten Benkenstein: trumpet and fugelhorn; Ingolf Burkhardt: trumpet and flugelhorn; Claus Stötter: trumpet and flugelhorn; Reiner Winterschladen: trumpet and flugelhorn; Dan Gottshall: trombone; Klaus Heidenreich: trombone; Stefan Lotterman: trombone; Ingo Lahme: bass trombone and tuba; Fiete Felsch: alto saxophone; Peter Bolte: alto saxophone; Lutz Büchner: tenor saxophone; Björn Berger: tenor saxophone; Frank Delle: baritone saxophone; Ingmar Heller: bass; Ernesto Simpson: drums; Marcio Doctor: percussion; Jaques Morelenbaum: arrangements and conducting
Released – 2018
Label – Otá Records (OTA 1030)
Runtime – 1:09:11