There are certain musicians who are a breed apart; such is the case with the Cubano pianist Omar Sosa. Born in Camaguey, Cuba’s largest inland city, Omar Sosa is a true world citizen. When he left Camaguey, he spent significant time in the Esmeraldas region of Ecuador, immersing himself in Afro-Ecuadorian culture, which musically-speaking is in part based on the woody tones of the marimba, an instrument Omar had studied in conservatory in Havana. Later on he spent a rich period living in the San Francisco Bay Area, interacting with such like-minded griots as John Santos and numerous other musicians around the SF/Oakland area. Currently living in Barcelona with his wife and children, Omar continues to record prolifically in a seemingly unlimited stylistic universe. A few days ago Omar’s tireless touring cycle landed at Blues Alley in DC to further explore one of his more recent recorded collaborations, with Italian trumpet-flugelhorn man Paolo Fresu. Their recording “Alma” on Omar and his equally tireless manager Scott Price’s OTA label, is on several tracks a trio effort in the good company of Brazilian cellist Jaques Morelebaum.
“Alma” is the recorded evidence of this superb partnership between Omar Sosa & Paolo Fresu
When Omar eased down the Blues Alley stairs on his way to the piano he bore a lit candle cupped in his outstretched hands, swathed in a red robe, wrapped in his customary white scarf and hat. Suzan and I were joined by NEA program director Michael Orlove and his lovely wife Rebecca, and upon spotting Omar wending his way to the keyboard we nodded in unison “Omar is a mystic!” That’s the effect he brings, that of a sufi, a man who brings not only prodigious skill to his instruments (in this case piano, keyboard and sampler), but also a profound sense of peace and tranquility – even when he is at his most vigorous points of musical expression. Omar Sosa is always prepared to drop some science on his audience.
In Paolo Fresu’s warm, rounded brass tones it’s clear that Omar has found yet another fellow traveler with whom to richly dialogue. They unfurled an entrancing series of winding arabesques and dances. On a day when Barack Obama unveiled his latest immigration reform plans to an eager audience in Nevada, I couldn’t help but reflect on the irony of this packed, often hushed, deeply appreciative Blues Alley audience experiencing this wonderful partnership between a Cuban pianist with tentacles across the globe, and his Italian brass partner. Their linkage is the soul of diverse simpatico. After the set we caught up with Omar, who excitedly encouraged us to join him – as we had several years ago – for another journey to the peerless Gnawa Festival in Essaouira, Morocco in June; doubtless Omar’s connection with the Gnawa will be a certain highlight of that amazing event.
Here’s Omar Sosa and Paulo Fresu in performance… http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HzBShhNUtqs&feature=youtu.be