Music Reviews: Sly and Strong

| January / February 2007

Omar Sosa: Live à FIP


Spare, melodic lines whispering past on the breeze of a blown kiss. Squat, atonal chord bursts delivered with the lickety-split surprise of a grazing jab. Phrases that rumble in low, then strike lightning. Like fellow Cuban-born pianists Rubén González and Gonzalo Rubalcaba, Omar Sosa prefers the percussive approach. Unlike his latest studio recordings, though-which are characterized by a meditative, poetic cadence-this set, taped in front of a live studio audience at Radio France in Paris, is all about the crescendo.

Fluent in the retroactive pulse of Latin bop and the hummable harmonies of sub-Saharan pop, here Sosa walks the thin line between inventive fusion and cloying smooth jazz-a feat made particularly precarious by saxophonist Luis Depestre, who has a silky, infectious tone reminiscent of Spyro Gyra's Jay Beckenstein. The quintet, which also features electric bass, drums, and percussion, never trips over into schmaltz, though, thanks to Sosa's sly solos and unwillingness to let the band get stuck in a rhythmic rut. The result is a hook-laden hybrid that even jaundiced purists can enjoy (mostly) guilt free.

On a melancholy note, featured conga master and former Afro-Cuban All Star Miguel "Ang‡" Diaz, whose unique, five-drum technique brings a crackle to Sosa's fire, died of a heart attack in August at age 45. Live à FIP, recorded in May 2005, is dedicated to his memory.

-David Schimke


(Light in the Attic)

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