If the pandemic slowed down Omar Sosa’s live performances, it did not slow down his creativity. The Cuban-born pianist / composer / bandleader has two new albums to be released soon and he will be performing his third Kuumbwa live concert at 7pm Thursday with his own B-Bay quartet; Sheldon Brown on saxophone, Ernesto Mazar Kindelán on bass and Josh Jones on drums. This Afro-Cuban jazz ensemble will present new compositions as well as interpretations of iconic pieces by Sosa, including “L3zero”, “Light in the Sky” and “Remember Monk”. For more information and tickets, visit kuumbwajazz.org.
The Sentinel recently spoke with Omar about Kuumbwa’s live concert, music during the pandemic, and his awareness that the Bay Area is a great place to make music.
“I call it the B-Bay Quartet and they are named after the Bay Area,” says Sosa. “In a way, it’s a reunion because Sheldon Brown recorded with me on my first four records; Free Roots (1997), Spirits of the Roots (1998), Inside (1999) and Bembone (2000). He’s a long-time brother in my musical journey and he toured with me at the start, across Europe and around the world.
“Josh Jones plays drums for us and he’s really one of my inspirations because when I got here (Bay Area) in ’95 or ’96 the first person to call me to play free music – jazz, music improvised – was Josh! “Sosa remembers,” I played with his band at the Up and Down Club and all those places back then, which are no longer alive. “
“Ernesto (Kindelán) comes from Cuba and he was the bassist of the very famous Cuban Charanga Habanera with David Calzado. When I saw he was here in the bay area, I said, “Well, let me call him.” We have good chemistry that plays together, ”says Sosa. “To have the opportunity to create this group was a dream come true. The music we’ll be playing is some of my latest compositions that I wrote during the COVID lockdown in March 2020. And we’ll be playing songs from the time. It’s like a compilation.
Love the bay area
In recent years, Sosa has performed in Europe, Africa, Japan, Australia, South America and the United States and has divided his time between Barcelona, Spain and the San Francisco Bay Area. .
“I try to have a decent time here because I love the Bay Area. I have a lot of friends here and you can always find great musicians; you can always do something. Sosa told the Sentinel. “And now with this COVID thing, I started to think about where is the best place for me to make music? And I’m like, “Well, this is the Bay Area.” Because I don’t want to move to New York because I don’t have the money to live there! Even here, it’s expensive! But at least I have some friends here.
Empty theater seats
Due to the pandemic, recent Sosa concerts have had a very small “socially estranged” audience in person or not at all. For a living artist who typically inspires audiences to stand up and dance, Sosa laments the lack of direct physical energy exchange these days.
“I’m a little sad that we don’t play with the audience because this music makes people dance and move. But there is no audience. That’s how it is. “Sosa recalls,” I was playing in Luxembourg three weeks ago, a concert after almost a year without playing in front of people in a theater. And that was weird, man. It was weird to see empty theater seats Two people in one corner and one person in another corner I say, “What is this?” I need to be honest with you; I feel bad comfortable in me. I said, “This is how everything is supposed to be? Is it going to be like this? It’s not because I want a sold-out house. It’s because it’s empty and not because you don’t take the right people. It’s empty because it’s a law. In fact, I feel better playing a livestream because I know it doesn’t. No one will be there. But when you have two people, five empty seats and one person, four more empty seats and then two people, I say, “Why? I did something in Halfmoon Bay with the Quartet like that and that” was fifteen people! It wasn’t a very funny experience. We played and we had fun among ourselves, but maybe I say, “I prefer to play alone.”
Sharing the energy
Sosa suggests, “Energy sharing is what it is meant to be, because we are human. One of the reasons we are on this planet is to communicate and share energy with other people. It’s a physical thing, it’s an energetic scene. We are human beings, we are not machines. Even though they want us to become a machine, we are not yet machines! We’re a different type of machine; we are a human machine. And this human machine is designed to communicate and interact with people. And now we are starting to interact through technology. It’s a new world now, man. Zoom in, zoom in! Sosa stops and adds: “But in a way, nothing has changed. The rich are richer and the poor are poorer. But we must continue, my brother.
“I have to say thank you to Kuumbwa and (artistic director / co-founder) Tim Jackson for calling us and giving us the opportunity to do this livestream,” Sosa offers. “This will be my third live broadcast in Kuumbwa during the pandemic. I did a solo piano concert and a duet with Steve Robertson on tabla and percussion. It went well; cool with cool music. And now we will return with the reunion of the B-Bay Quartet. It’s going to be “Poom! Poom! I don’t mean stronger, but a little more energy! “
Sosa often adds electronics and samples to his live performances, but he told the Sentinel that this time he can’t wait to play the upright grand piano.
Back to basics
“Clean, right. Back to basics. You know, less is more, ”explains Sosa. “This concert will be the classical quartet. Sheldon Brown on tenor saxophone, bass clarinet, soprano sax and bass flute. Ernesto is going to play baby bass and electric bass. Josh is going to play drums and I’m going to play upright piano up front. It will be like a classical Latin quartet, even without conga or percussion. We are going to have fun. We have fun every time we play. We already did something in Half Moon Bay last month, and now we’re going to have fun in Kuumbwa.
Sosa has a series of European shows scheduled this summer with a variety of different collaborators, including percussionist Ernesttico in the duo B-Black in Italy and with German trumpeter Joo Kraus, with whom Sosa collaborated on the 2015 album JOG. Concerts are also planned to celebrate the October release of Suba, a second album with Senegalese kora player Seckou Keita to follow up on their 2017 album Transparent Water and Manos, an album that brings together Sosa and Cuban pianist Marialy Pacheco for the first time.
“Manos will be released this summer. Marialy Pacheco is a truly amazing pianist with a solid classical education, ”Sosa told Sentinel. “She made me study!” When I play with her, I have to go back to study every day! Her playing is so refined and perfect and she writes beautiful songs. She’s really big in Germany now. We’re going to tour in Germany and Italy, which is great. Sosa will also be performing in September with another new group called Havana-Detroit Jazz Project at the Detroit Jazz Festival.
“I’m busy. But you never know what’s going to happen the next day. You have a schedule, but every day a new cancellation comes up,” Sosa explains. “They called me three days ago and canceled a concert in Prague this summer because of COVID. I don’t know. That’s how it is. This concert is going to take place in another time, I hope. And we have to go with the flow. Eventually the world will be sunnier , with more balance. ”
Listen to this interview with Omar Sosa Thursday noon on “Transformation Highway” with John Malkin on KZSC 88.1 FM / kzsc.org.