Es:sensual is not the Cuban-born pianist-composer Omar Sosa’s first meetup with Germany’s NDR Bigband or the Brazilian multi-tasker Jaques Morelenbaum. In 2010, the same three forces came together for Ceremony, which JazzTimes called in its review “an inventive and rewarding project [that] extends the tradition of Afro-Cuban big bands as established by such pioneers as Machito, Dizzy, Chico O’Farrill and Mario Bauzá.”
Es:sensual extends that extension; it’s not so much a follow-up as a reboot. Sosa revels in the largeness of the ensemble at his disposal, and with Morelenbaum, the celebrated arranger, conductor, musician and composer, he’s found a simpatico partner, one whose own work with the likes of Jobim, Gilberto Gil and other Brazilian stars has given him many an opportunity to work within the big-band format.
The material is drawn primarily from previous Sosa releases, reaching back some two decades to his Free Roots recording as well as more recent sources. Both Morelenbaum and Sosa enjoy drama in their arrangements, and there’s plenty of that on hand, particularly as the program progresses. “Glu-Glu,” heard previously on Sosa’s 2009 Across the Divide: A Tale of Rhythm and Ancestry, is utterly transformed from a tight slab of funked-up Afro-Latin fusion into a bacchanal of stacked horns, frenetic percussion and, of course, Sosa’s piano pushing it along feverishly. “Angustiado,” 13 minutes of free-flowing blowing, traverses entire worlds, alternating between thick, structured horn charts, steamy sax breakouts and manic piano percussion, a glorious jumble of polyrhythmic goodness.
The first half of the program, for whatever reason, is more restrained, albeit still quite pleasing. Tunes like “Reposo” and “My Three Notes” emphasize a more tempered side of the collaboration, revisited in the album’s finale, “Sad Meeting,” something this celebratory affair most definitely is not.
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