Saturday, December 17, 2005

Omar Sosa Trio - 14/12/2005, Brussels

Omar Sosa is Cuban, prolific, charismatic (as a stage presence and as a player) and apparently relatively popular (hundreds filled the Espace Senghor's theatre to capacity), yet it seems to me that he's rarely discussed in jazz circles. I hadn't heard any of his music since a couple of rather old albums and had never seen him live. He was accompanied by the impressively pot-bellied percussionist Miguel Anga Diaz (who's as ubiquitous as one musician can be) and an African electric bassist whose name escapes me (it's always the bassists, isn't it?).

The first sounds to be heard came from backstage: an African chant accompanied by a small frame drum. Sosa came out holding a candle in one hand and a red cloth in the other, dressed as usual in white robes. He blessed the piano with the cloth. He then leant over and produced discreet electronic whistles on a sort of touchpad-controlled FX box set up to the piano's left. In just a few gestures, he let the crowd know that the Ancient To Future principle was in full effect, that ancient and modern rituals were going to mix and that great things were coming. Unfortunately, what followed wasn't quite as great as I hoped, or, perhaps more accurately, I found the style of a significant part of what was played to be kitsch and bordering on restaurant sonic wallpaper. Frustrating, as had the music's slant been set at a different angle, this could have contended for concert of the year status.

The very long first piece summed almost everything up. It was a kaleidoscope that flitted from New Age-y World Beat to fast 'n' furious post-bop to 80's blues-scales-on-syth-driven jazz-funk to salsa to a seamless Cuban funk melding. I had trouble with the New Age-y World Beat bit, which returned often throughout the concert. The 80s jazz-funk bit (think "Amandla") was achieved through FX boxes that processed the grand pianos sound. At times these effects were cool (and I'd never seen anyone do that before, so the novelty itself was interesting), but turning a nice-sounding Schimmel grand into a Casio... Call me old-fashioned, but it made me queasy, even if it was also kind of fun. The (all too) brief fast 'n' furious Cuban-inflected post-bop bit and the salsa bit displayed Sosa's thrilling virtuosity. More of that (salsa, són, danzón and things like that did return at various points, always to my great delight), combined with the *fantastic* "Cuban classical" piano-percussion duet that served as a first encore would have been a perfect night for me. But, misguidedly, Sosa did not ask for my opinion.

Sosa has a great sense of humour too: the second piece included a sequence of clusters he played by collapsing on the keyboard, first with forearm, then elbow, then backside and climaxing in some dancing. During the second encore, he got the crowd singing along gender lines, miming female beauty and male ponderousness.

That "Cuban classical" encore (yeah, it's not pristine, it's *raw*)