Live Jazz: Omar Sosa at Auditorio Conde Duque in the XXVIII Festival Jazz Madrid

By Fernando Gonzalez

Madrid.  A concert by Cuban pianist Omar Sosa suggests, at different times, an ever-changing combination of musical event, performance art, and religious ceremony.

His solo show at the lovely new Auditorio Conde Duque in Madrid, on Tuesday, as part of the XXVIII Festival Jazz Madrid, certainly had plenty of those elements.  But what made it memorable was Sosa’s willingness to follow his creative whims, take chances without a net, and offer the full house what felt like a living room performance, warts and all.

“I had a list of pieces I was going to play,” he said at a break, well into the evening, showing as proof a sheaf of white pages hidden in the acoustic piano. “But at the end, I ended up playing whatever I felt like,” he said sheepishly. “I hope you enjoyed it as much as I did.”

Sitting before an acoustic and an electric piano and aided by a battery of electronic devices that he manipulated on the fly with pedals, Sosa drew the tone, if not strictly the material, from his album Calma. It was hard to recognize particular pieces, which were improvised to begin with – here, one sounded like “Aguas,” a bit there seemed from “Dance of Reflection.”  At best, they were more like points of departure than attempts at strict readings. But Calma did set the mood. (“We’re all going too fast. We need to take a breath, calm down, and catch up with ourselves,” said Sosa at one point.)

This was music of open spaces, reflective, of moods rather than unfolding stories. His vocabulary at times evoked the Impressionists and the Romantics via Ryuichi Sakamoto – with richer technical flourishes. Only in a couple of instances did Sosa break the mood, once to play an energetic montuno (his only direct reference to Afro Cuban music), the other to set a groove and launch a pre-taped voice loop.

Overall, it was like being privy to an exceptional musician’s thinking-out loud session. This is clearly not something recommended for everyone.  But Omar Sosa has the technique and imagination, and the good nature, to pull it off with grace. On Tuesday, for the most part, it worked.

Photo by Shinya Watabe.

To read more reviews and posts by Fernando Gonzalez click HERE.

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