Omar Sosa (born April 10, 1965, in Camagüey, Cuba) is a composer, bandleader, and jazz pianist. Sosa began studying marimba at age eight, then switched to piano at the Escuela Nacional de Musica in Havana, where he studied jazz. Sosa moved to Quito, Ecuador, in 1993, then San Francisco, California, in 1995. In San Francisco he became deeply involved in the local Latin jazz scene and began a long collaboration with percussionist John Santos. He also made a series of recordings with producer Greg Landau, including the ground-breaking Oaktown Irawo, featuring Tower of Power drummer Dave Garibaldi, Cuban saxophonist Yosvany Terry and Cuban percussionist Jesus Diaz. Sosa and Landau recorded with Carlos “Patato” Valdes and Pancho Quinto and worked on several film scores. Around 1999 Sosa moved to Barcelona, Spain.
Omar Sosa is one of the most versatile jazz artists on the scene today: composer, arranger, producer, pianist, percussionist, and bandleader. He fuses a wide range of 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. On stage, Mr. Sosa is a charismatic figure, inspiring his fellow musicians with his dynamic playing and improvisational approach to the music – an approach full of raw emotional power and humor. Mr. Sosa invariably inspires audiences to their feet and to join him in chorus vocals, heightening the sense of spontaneity and connection.
Mr. Sosa’s latest CD on Otá Records, Mulatos , features 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 recently nominated for Latin Jazz Album of the Year by the NYC-based Jazz Journalists Association.
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. 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 15 recordings on the Oakland-based Otá Records label since 1997, including 2002’s GRAMMY-nominated Sentir . He performed recently 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”. For more information, please visit www.melodia.com.
Omar Sosa was nominated in 2003 for a BBC Radio 3 Award for World Music in the ‘Americas’ category, along with Ibrahim Ferrer, Caetano Veloso, and Os Tribalistas. He began 2004 with the debut of his first work for symphony orchestra, entitled From Our Mother , performed at the Paramount Theatre in Oakland by the Oakland East Bay Symphony under the direction of Michael Morgan. The 45-minute work in three movements, which combines folkloric elements from Cuba, Venezuela, and Ecuador with modern jazz harmonies, was co-commissioned by Yerba Buena Center for the Arts in San Francisco and the Oakland East Bay Symphony, with partial funding from the Rockefeller Foundation.
EGGUN: The Afri-Lectric Experience began as an Omar Sosa commission from the Barcelona Jazz Festival in 2009. The assignment: to compose and produce a tribute performance to Miles Davis’ classic recording, Kind Of Blue, 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. The resulting jazz textures are further enhanced by the subtle and expressive use of electronic elements. At the heart of the recording is the spirit of Mother Africa.
The featured horn players are Joo Kraus on trumpet (Germany),Leandro Saint-Hill on alto saxophone and flute (Cuba), and Peter Apfelbaum on tenor saxophone (U.S.A.). Omar’s longtime rhythm section of Marque Gilmore on drums (U.S.A.) and Childo Tomas on electric bass (Mozambique) create the foundation.
Special guests on the project include Lionel Loueke on guitars (Benin),Marvin Sewell on guitars (U.S.A.), Pedro Martinez on Afro-Cuban percussion (Cuba), John Santos on percussion (U.S.A.), and Gustavo Ovalles on Afro-Venezuelan percussion (Venezuela). The CD was recorded primarily in Brooklyn, NY. Of particular interest is a set of sixInterludios interspersed among the primary tracks of the recording, inspired by melodic elements from the solos of Bill Evans.
Eggun, in the West African spiritual practice of Ifá and its various expressions throughout the African Diaspora, are the spirits of those who have gone before us, both in our immediate families and those who serve as our Spirit guides.
From the liner notes, by Joan Cararach, artistic director of the Barcelona Jazz Festival:
Harmony, peace, respect, freedom. That has been Omar Sosa’s response to our proposal: to revisit Kind of Blue, by Miles Davis, from his own (quite exceptional) aesthetic assumptions. The year was 2009. The 41st Voll-Damm Barcelona International Jazz Festival had hired drummer Jimmy Cobb – the only surviving member of the group’s original line-up who created that record – and a tribute band committed to revive, in concert, the memory of that iconic jazz piece. But Kind of Blue, rather than a museum piece, is a mysterious record with an intimacy to be disclosed very slowly, generation after generation, beyond the commonplaces of history books.
That’s why we asked two artists who are familiar with our festival to revisit Kind of Blue from another perspective, following the artistic principles evoked by Bill Evans in his notes to the record signed by Davis: be yourself, be spontaneous, give all you have to give, everything you learned from those who came before and those you are sharing the road with. We selected Chano Domínguez, from Andalucía, who contributed Flamenco Sketches (Blue Note, 2012), and Cuban Omar Sosa, who did a powerful research of Miles Davis’ record.
Eggun (ancestors) is not a typical record, just as Sosa is not a typical pianist. The artist, at first reluctant, became obsessed probing into Kind of Blue to find nothing else but the paradoxes of a never-ending search: love and indifference; exile and emigration; being here and now with the lessons of those who illuminated us; restless energy and deliberate contemplation; the uncanny twists and turns of our souls and the shades of our lives; the constant strain between grief and joy, contradictory and supplementary at the same time.
Eggun essentially derives from the melodic cells of Kind of Blue’s solos and has the aim of honoring that record, which, let’s say it once more, is hardly known in spite of having been used and abused. Eggun is like all of Sosa’s works, an invitation to a journey plentiful with luxury, peace and sensuality (thanks, Baudelaire!). We have a welcome withAlejet – whitein Arabic – and El Alba. All the sounds of the African diaspora – where Moroccan bendir meets Dominican merengue and Puerto Rican plena: So All Freddie. The interludes, almost sacred invocations to the genius of Bill Evans. And a passionate desperation in the finale, as in records conceived the old way, like a narrative, followed by the final rest, grace in a religious sense, like an overflowing energy which at the end of the journey becomes pure togetherness. Kindness, in short.
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