Omar Sosa Invokes the Spirits of the Ancestors

A Review:
Omar Sosa, Eggun: the Afri-Lectric Experience (Otá Records)

I’ve seen it happen in live performances: Some interior door swings cover_eggunopen, and the musician connects with something else. Music pours out
irresistibly, the performer as much in its thrall as the audience, an open channel between this world and another—a messenger of light.

Cuban-born pianist/composer Omar Sosa is one of those musicians, and as with all of them—Ravi Shankar, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Regina Carter, to name a few—I now listen to his work with my ears tuned to a slightly different frequency, alert for the transformative communion. Eggun, like many a Sosa recording, opens that channel. 

The album’s point of departure is a 2009 commission from the Barcelona Jazz Festival to compose a tribute to Miles Davis’s Kind of Blue on the occasion of its 50th anniversary. While Sosa’s suite is not a track-for-track homage to Kind of Blue—it includes nine primary tracks, with six short interludes—those familiar with the classic recording will recognize the references. Some are obvious, as on “Alejet,” which parallels “So What.” In other places, melodic elements float like pentimenti under Sosa’s painterly surface. Sosa fans will likewise hear fragments from his earlier compositions. Sometimes the Davis and Sosa references coincide, as they do on “El Alba,” facing mirrors casting infinite reflections.

The word eggun, in the parlance of the West African spiritual practice of Ifá, refers to the spirits of those who have gone before. Sosa’s choice of instrumentation, his compositional elements, and his arrangements makes it clear that the line of forebears extends back many generations before Davis. The true subject of Sosa’s homage is Africa and the African Diaspora, and their profound influence on Western culture. The tribute to Kind of Blue provides a canvas for a suite layered with colors from ancient Africa to the contemporary Americas and their rich African heritage.

The percussion and the bass, which itself often functions as another sort of drum on Eggun, play star roles in the suite, reflecting the honored position of the drum in African music. Unfortunately, soloists are occasionally overmatched by the dominant bass/percussion line, as on “Alternativo Sketches,” where penetrating sax solos are but a backdrop to the percussive foreground. That being said, the arrangements masterfully mix electronic and acoustic elements, and the suite ultimately provides an emotionally satisfying musical journey. The dreamy “Alejete” and “El Alba” welcome the listener into a contemplative space and establish a sui generis sense of time. “So All Freddie” brings almost a big band feel, with the massed trumpet and reeds and the orchestrated vocal samples. “Rumba Connection,” with its mercurial piano solo, dances ahead of the memorable “Angustiado,” which delivers an invigorating climax before
“Eggun” brings the listener home with a prayer.

To bring his multicolored suite to life, Sosa enlisted an international assembly of simpático musicians of virtuosic ability: Joo Kraus (Germany) on trumpet; Leandro Saint-Hill (Cuba) on alto sax, clarinet, and flute; Peter Apfelbaum (USA) on tenor, soprano, and bass saxes, as well as melodica and caxixi; Childo Tomas (Mozambique) on bass, kalimba, and vocals; and Marque Gilmore (USA) on acousti-lectric drums, EFX programming, and drum loop production. Special guests include Lionele Loueke (Benin) and Marvin Sewel (USA) on guitar, Pedro Martinez (Cuba) on Afro-Cuban percussion, John Santos (USA) on percussion, and Gustavo Ovalles (Venezuela) on Afro-Venezuelan percussion. Sosa himself plays piano, Fender Rhodes, electronics, and samples.

© 2013 Mel Minter. All rights reserved.

3 thoughts on “Omar Sosa Invokes the Spirits of the Ancestors

  1. Steve Reed

    Terrific review! I too was taken with the phrase quoted by Dudessa — “melodic elements float like pentimenti under Sosa’s painterly surface.” It really captures the selection from “Eggun” that you played during your interview on KSFR on Monday, January 28. Definitely going to buy this album based on your recommendation. And hope to hear you more on the radio, as well.

    Reply
  2. Dudessa

    Wow.. This review certainly inspires me to buy the music. …”melodic elements float like pentimenti under Sosa’s painterly surface.” I think you have pretty much captured a lot of what Sosa does and attempts to do musically. Well said, well written.

    I believe that you are coming into your own with the blog.. and so be it..

    Patti, the Dudessa

    Reply

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