The Cuban pianist-composer realizes a personal dream in this collaboration with his quartet and Germany’s 18-piece NDR Big Band. Sosa’s moving compositions organically blend Afro-Cuban sensibilities with jazz while Jaques Morelenbaum’s intricate arrangements augment the material (previously recorded on Sosa’s 1999 outing Spirit of the Roots) with elegance and lavishness. Alto saxophonist Peter Bolte distinguishes himself as a first-rate improviser with his bold blowing over the churning montuno section of “Chango En Esmeraldas,” while the alluring and dynamic “Danzon De Tus Ojos” is a beautiful showcase for Sosa’s cascading piano work. One of the more affecting pieces here is the evocative “Luz En El Cielo” (previously appearing on 2008’s Afreecanos), in which Morelenbaum summons up lush, Maria Schneider-esque horn arrangements on top of an insinuating Afro-Cuban undercurrent. The infectious dance number “Cha Con Marimba” features potent solos from trombonist Dan Gottshall, Sosa on both piano and marimba, trumpeter Claus Stotter and flutist Fiete Felsch. (And listen for Morelenbaum’s “Salt Peanuts” reference on one horn section fill.)
Morelenbaum’s unison horn lines on “Yemaya En Agua Larga” and his dynamic trombone, saxophone and trumpet section call-and-response arrangement on “Mi Tradicion” are especially ambitious, and he turns in stirring cello work on “Salida Con Elegba,” Sosa’s celebration of the Yoruban orisha that is a guardian, protector and divine messenger. Tenor saxophonist Lutz Buchner contributes a powerful Brecker-ian solo on “Mi Tradicion,” then soars heroically on soprano sax over the highly charged “Monkuru.”
This inventive and rewarding project extends the tradition of Afro-Cuban big bands as established by such pioneers as Machito, Dizzy, Chico O’Farrill and Maurio Bauza.