Omar Sosa, Senses (Otá Records)
Don’t think of Omar Sosa as a Cuban pianist/composer. Think of him, instead, as a shaman for whom music is a spiritual
instrument for opening a window onto the other world, enlarging our capacity for
compassion and joy, celebrating the life force.
On Senses, which finds him solo at the piano, he uses it to heal himself in an emotionally difficult period and to apply balm to any chafed spirit who listens.
But it’s not an easy album to listen to. Not
because the music is difficult or dissonant—far from it—but because it is so personal, and
because its subtle drama inhabits a narrow dynamic range. It requires that listeners give
themselves over to it completely, on its terms, downshifting their very breath to the album’s spacious expansion of time and its invocation of silence.
The album comprises 16 impossible-to-classify tracks, all originals, created from extended
improvisations over the course of several days and including elements of classical, jazz, Cuban, New Age, African, and ecclesiastic traditions. The setting was the recording studio at the
Experimental Media and Performing Arts Center at the Renssalaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, NY, where Sosa enjoyed an artist-in-residency. The studio’s Yamaha concert grand seems to have opened a window for Sosa, who bathes himself and the listener in its lush sonorities, in meditations that shift from shadow to light—two recurring images in the album. Sosa uses the resonance of this remarkable instrument to full effect, especially in his extensive use of the
sustain pedal, which allows him to add sonic depth and extend moments for contemplation.
The first track, “Sun Shower,” opens with delicate drops of light that shimmer in the sustain
pedal, but they’re shot through with hints of darkness. The composition verges at moments on facile New Age optimism, but Sosa resists the urge to bypass the unnamed loss that seems to lie at the heart of the track and the album. Instead, he allows it to linger, without yielding to it.
Conflicts and sorrow emerge again and again in the compositions, and Sosa answers them with reassuring consonances that nonetheless remain open-ended. From the darkness of “3.25,” the fourth track, he moves to the rippling meditation of “Despacio,” which finds the first footholds of resolution.
The elegiac “Shadow of Clouds” taps out a Morse code of loss and acceptance in its opening lines as it moves toward an accommodation. It does not offer an answer to loss, but lets it speak.
The back-and-forth between light and dark in the pained counterpoint of “Lament,” the slow-motion “Dark Tango in the Morning,” and the translucent “Two Sides of Autumn,” finds solace in “Olorun,” which seems to summon the Yoruban god of the sun, and his life force, Ashé, in a healing benediction. The gentle “Holy Mary” similarly offers the supplicant a haven.
The final three tracks, beginning with the hymnlike “At Night,” move ever closer to the light
without denying the shadow. It’s a journey of acceptance and accommodation in which loss and longing, embraced, leaven life.
P.S. New Mexico fans will be happy to hear that the Omar Sosa Quarteto AfroCubano, with
Leandro Saint-Hill (sax, flute), Childo Tomas (bass), and Ernesto Simpson (drums), is scheduled to appear at the Outpost Performance Space in Albuquerque on July 23 and 24 as part of the 2014 New Mexico Jazz Festival.
© 2014 Mel Minter. All rights reserved.