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The Music Of Sosa And Cartaya Has '70s Roots

Ed Morales

17 October 2004
Copyright © 2004 Newsday. All rights reserved. 

In the '70s and '80s, there were two influential strands of Latin jazz that had evolved from the early days of Machito, Mario Bauzá and Dizzy Gillespie. In the United States, the fusion jazz overlapped with salsa to produce a new generation of player-heirs of Mongo Santamaría and Tito Puente - such as Hilton Ruiz, Dave Valentín and Michel Camilo, who alternated between salsa and jazz gigs. In Cuba, ambitious and experimental bands such as Irakere paid homage to U.S. fusion and delved deep into the African roots of Cuban music.

These strands are still evolving today in the music of Cuban pianist Omar Sosa and Puerto Rican bassist Oskar Cartaya.

Sosa's latest release, "Mulatos" (Otá Records), is among the best Latin music records this year, regardless of genre - pop, tropical, jazz, rock or hip-hop. An incredibly skillful and sensual player, Sosa has claimed that he merely acts as an instrument of the gods - specifically, the Afro-Cuban orishas. But although he is strongly rooted in the particular experience of Cuba, African religion and the piano, his music is strikingly universal.

On "Mulatos," a word that describes the genetic mixing of Europeans and Africans, Sosa manifests European classical training; an affection for Indian tabla; the Arabic laud, or lute; and bebop, as well as his strong grounding in all things Afro-Cuban. With the exception of guest clarinetist Paquito D'Rivera, founding member of Irakere, most of Sosa's collaborators are not Latin Americans. But they act as international reinterpreters of the spirit of Afro-Cuban music.

Although Sosa is not necessarily a difficult listen, "Mulatos" is his most accessible album to date. From the funky guajiro-jazz posturing of "Reposo" to the upbeat marimba-and-clarinet- charged "La Tra," this is an album that can take over your car stereo or evening get-together, but it can also act as ambient delight.

Representing that other strand of Latin jazz, L.A.-based Cartaya will be at Sweet Rhythm (212-255-3626) Sunday with a crew of talented sidemen, including percussionist Marc Quiñones, keyboardist Ricky Gonzalez and trombonist Luis Bonilla. Last time he was in town, flutist Dave Valentín and vocalist Claudia Acuña joined in one of the best shows of its kind since the untimely death of the Village Gate's Salsa Meets Jazz series.

Cartaya, formerly of fusion jazz giants Spyro Gyra, has a recent album, "My Music, My Friends, My Time" (Oye! Records), that features such guests as Acuña, Eddie Palmieri, Sheila E. (of Prince fame) and Giovanni Hidalgo. The album exuberantly races all over the map, sounding like a Stanley Clarke solo album, an old Batacumbéle jam, bugaloo revivalism and a Palmieri classic. Maybe it's because Cartaya is a bicoastal brother with his heart in "El Yunque" (the title track, named after Puerto Rico's national rainforest).

In his last show at Sweet Rhythm, Cartaya even used a rhyming MC, something Sosa did to great effect on earlier albums. The circle of Latin jazz fusion is all-inclusive, from rumba to rap.

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