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Jazz Review

Sosa's Worldly Recipe a Diverse Treat

April 18, 2002|DON HECKMAN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Pianist Omar Sosa's appearance at the Jazz Bakery this week is subtitled "The Soul of Cuban Jazz." But that's a label that only partly describes the kaleidoscopic sounds and rhythms surging from the stage on Tuesday in the opening-night set from Sosa and his septet.

Cuban elements were present in abundance, from Sosa's surging tumbaos and singer Martha Galarraga's steadfast clave playing to a flowing array of body-moving salsa rhythms and sweetly harmonized boleros.

Sosa, who was born in Camaguey in 1965, started out as a percussionist, somehow picking up enough piano skills along the way to become a masterful performer of that instrument too. But his visceral understanding of the full range of Cuban rhythms never went away, investing his piano playing with a rich stylistic diversity and a passionate emotional expressiveness.

Sosa's American albums, issued since he moved to San Francisco in 1995 (he recently relocated to Barcelona, Spain), have been extraordinarily diverse, embracing solo piano, duets with percussionists, large ensembles and the septet instrumentation that surfaced at the Bakery. With each release, he expanded his musical horizons, starting with generic Cuban styles and gradually reaching out into other music of the world.

The septet he brought to the Bakery typified that global reach with personnel that included Cuban and American musicians as well as rapper Brutha Los, Venezuelan percussionist Gustavo Ovalles and Moroccan violinist-vocalist Bouchaib Abdelhadi. And the music--much of it from Sosa's new album, "Sentir"--was similarly eclectic.

Beginning with the incantatory "Opening for Eleggua," with its Yoruban spiritual references, the music continued in persistently blended fashion. Abdelhadi's sweet-sounding, Middle Eastern-inflected vocals were juxtaposed against Los' poetic rapping. Sosa dipped in and out of the sort of rhapsodic pianistics associated with Ruben Gonzalez, the driving arpeggios of McCoy Tyner and the offbeat accents of Thelonious Monk. At times as many as six players performed simultaneously on various percussion instruments, layering American backbeats, Moroccan rhythms and a collective sense of swing over the Cuban clave.

There were a few passive moments in which a sprinkling of New Age qualities became a bit too dominant. But for the most part, Sosa's performance was an extraordinary example of state-of-the-art world jazz, splendidly illustrating how entrancing the music can become when it is open and receptive to global input and interaction.

The Omar Sosa Septet at the Jazz Bakery, 3233 Helms Ave. Tonight through Sunday at 8 and 9:30 p.m. $25. (310) 271-9039.

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