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Omar Sosa Quarteto Americanos in Healdsburg, California

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Omar Sosa Quarteto Americanos (from left): Omar Sosa, Sheldon Brown, Ernesto Mazar Kindelán, Josh Jones.
Omar Sosa Quarteto Americanos (from left): Omar Sosa, Sheldon Brown, Ernesto Mazar Kindelán, Josh Jones.

Prior to hearing Omar Sosa and his Quarteto Americanos perform in Healdsburg, CA, I’d listened to many of his recordings. I’d watched the excellent documentary about his life and art “Omar Sosa’s 88 Well-Tuned Drums” right before the show. None of this prepared me adequately for the experience of hearing Sosa and his band play at the Raven Performing Arts Center on June 17, 2024. The experience for me was exhilarating, fascinating, uplifting – all of those things and more.  

The band – Omar Sosa [Camagüey, Cuba] on acoustic piano, two synthesizers, wicker brushes, Sheldon Brown [Oakland, CA] on tenor and soprano saxophones, bass clarinet, flute, chinese musette, oboe, Ernesto Mazar Kindelán [Santiago de Cuba] on baby bass, Josh Jones [Berkeley, CA] on drums, bongos, and assorted percussion, played with an exuberance and mastery that shook Raven Performing Arts Center.

As captain of the musical ship, Sosa began the show slowly, weaving in soft notes from the synth and the acoustic piano. A short while later he was joined by Brown on flute then Mazar Kindelán on bass followed by Jones on drums. Brown shifted to bass clarinet, Jones grabbed some sticks, while Mazar Kindelán plucked away with more gusto. They built to a fever pitch and ended with a flourish and that was just the first tune. 

Taking a rap from his album Ilé Sosa started what became the second excursion in sound.  Jones handled the shifts in tempo, while Brown played a rousing tenor and Mazar Kindelán pumped up the sound with his deft musings on baby bass. Stoking the fire with his elbow jabs and flourishes, Sosa kept his bandmates on their toes, allowing the passion of his band’s performance to peak before calming the waters and leading the band into more contemplative passages. 

Brown and Mazar Kindelán had monitors which they would refer to throughout the show for the ensemble passages but the amount of true improvisation was staggering. Jones was in constant motion adding little touches on bongo at just the right moments. Brown is a veteran of many of Sosa’s recordings, and Jones has played with Sosa for almost thirty years. This shared history allows the band to play together with a deep and genuine cohesion. Listening to them, you get a feeling that all four men breathe together.

The third portion of the show was a deep dive into Afro-Cuban sounds and possibilities. There were montunos turned inside out and passages of a dense exploration of the clave. At this point the excitement grew, an exchange between Sosa, piano and Brown, tenor, utilizing call and response, resulted in laughter. The smile on Mazar Kindelán’s face became wider and Jones kept on adding that solid undercurrent. There was a shout out to one of the elders of Afro-Cuban music when Sosa said, “Anda, Camina, Camina, Juan Pescao”. This was a specific reference to “Juan Pescao” a song popularized by the late great bassist Israel López “Cachao”.  

Sosa and the bandmates’ sense of spontaneity and love of the moment seemed to reach the audience in waves. At some juncture in there Sosa left his piano chair and began to dance. At another point, he had the audience clap using the clave in a most creative fashion. In fact Sosa was so moved by the music that he stood up from the piano at various intervals playing the whole time. His face expressed a joy and rapture rare in a professional musician – one couldn’t help sharing in his astonishment in the discovery of uncharted musical territory.  

At about the three quarters of the way through the concert everyone stopped playing and Jones ripped into an East Bay Funk groove. This sparked the band, Sosa led with some gorgeous chords, Brown joined on spirited soprano, and Mazar Kindelán provided that expert bottom. The band continued to display their mastery of several styles of music while maintaining a perfect balance of solid swinging and harmonic beauty.

In the fourth and final part of the voyage, Sosa began by taking some wicker brushes and hitting the strings of the piano in a propulsive rhythm. The band immediately fell in behind him blending in with said rhythm. Brown went back to the bass clarinet, Jones answered with a counter beat, and Mazar Kindelán tied it all together with those choice low notes. Once things were cooking Sosa went back to the acoustic piano and took us all home safely to port.

I have been swept up by the force of the music only a few times and Omar Sosa’s Quarteto Americanos left an unforgettable imprint. Sosa, Brown, Mazar Kindelán and Jones found that spiritual energy Sosa spoke about in the documentary, and all of us in attendance were lucky enough to witness and partake of it. 

Omar Sosa & Seckou Keita SUBA trio featuring percussionist Gustavo Ovalles will be at Flato Markham Theatre in Toronto, Canada on Saturday January 25, 2025.

About Omar Sosa

Omar Sosa is a musical visionary who has captivated audiences worldwide with his unique blend of jazz, Afro-Cuban rhythms, and global influences. With a career spanning over three decades, Sosa has released more than thirty albums and collaborated with musicians from around the world, continually pushing the boundaries of what is possible in contemporary music.

Brooks Geiken is a retired Spanish teacher, with a lifelong interest in music, specifically Afro-Cuban, Brazilian, and Black American music. His wife thinks he should write a book titled "The White Dude's Guide to Afro-Cuban & Jazz Music". Brooks lives in the San Francisco Bay Area.

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