The Basement, February 19
There’s music that skims surfaces and music that excavates the very ground on which we walk. In the 11 years since Omar Sosa was last here I’ve heard precious little to rate with this performance. It was so brimming with magic and mystery that it seemed to transcend the bounds of music, itself – at least those narrow, prosaic confines in which so much of the stuff is constrained.
As ever the Cuban appeared carrying a candle to his piano and its keyboard cousins, and having established a sonic mood of long shadows and enigmas he was joined piecemeal by Mozambican bassist Childo Tomas and fellow Cubans Lukmil Perez (drums) and Leandro Saint-Hill (saxophones and flute). Even this process of assembling on stage was shrouded in drama, and then the real business began: thrillingly energised grooves constantly studded with surprises.
Sosa’s playing routinely overflowed with such wonders that it was like one had stumbled into a musical Aladdin’s Cave. Sometimes he left his keyboards to dance, as if there were so much more to express than could come from his fingers alone. Much of the material came from his recent Ile album, exploring the plethora of rhythms for which Cuba is renowned. Where the recorded versions swayed and lilted, however, these live iterations were almost burst asunder by the joyous interaction.
All members contributed vocals at various points, but then their playing was always so organic as to be just singing of another sort, anyway. The bass lines were as profound as prayers, and Perez kept shattering the grooves and regluing them a microsecond later. While Saint-Hill had a rather thin sound on flute, he was eminently compelling on alto and soprano saxophones, his piquant sounds and lines slicing through the grooves like a machete through undergrowth.
Beyond Cuba Sosa’s music had echoes of other idioms and artists flaring off it that were as diverse as Miles Davis and Eric Satie, and yet nothing felt contrived or showy. They were just digging ever deeper.