Friday, June 03, 2005

Omar Sosa Trio at the Phoenix

I'm still recovering from the most remarkable gig I've seen in the five years I've been in Exeter - the Omar Sosa Trio at the The Phoenix last night. Utterly electrifying. They received a standing ovation - a very well-deserved one.

image from

There's a description of them here, which is pretty accurate. A Cuban pianist with all the best elements of Sun Ra and Thelonius Monk in his playing and general aura, a Tunisian oud master (Dhafer Youssef) who also unleashed freeform 'devotional'-type vocals with a power similar that of Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan or Van Morrison, and Miguel 'Angá' Diaz, one of Cuba's finest percussionists (i.e. about as good as percussion can get).

I'd seen a poster a couple of weeks ago, and thought "Cuban-North African fusion, hmmm...". These things can sometimes work, or sometimes just be a contrived attempt to fuse traditions in a kind of annoying 'world music' way. But my friend Sven (who I recorded with in Belgium recently) plays in an occasional Moroccan-Cuban fusion group called 'Son Rai', who are brilliant, so I was more curious that usual to check out this trio. A few days ago, I happened to be passing BBC Radio 3 on the dial, and a programme called In Tune, as well as playing bits of opera and Segovia, had the Trio playing live in the studio. As well as being impressed by the music, I was struck by what nice people they seemed to be, and how much fun they were obviously having playing (mostly improvising) together.

On stage, this was even more evident. There was a wonderfully playful, almost pixie-like quality to the three of them, the way they played, communicated and generally interacted. Omar and Dhafer were messing with various bits of electronics, making properly dynamic use of effects and interesting/inspring/weird samples (NO cheesy dance beats, thank God! This use of electronic was more in the spirit of classic period Gong material, or something like that). Omar was playing percussion directly on his piano strings at one point, Dhafer was playing jazz-type basslines on his oud, beaming out huge smiles. At the end, you just wanted to hug them all...

Omar even looks a bit like an Afro-Cuban version of Sven!

I'd almost given up on trying to get a ticket, but then got a last-minute phone call from Richard Drone offering me one, and rushed down to the Phoenix just in time, adding to overall excitement and spontaneity of the experience.

After that Miles Davis experience a couple of days ago, I didn't imagine I was going to witness any improvisational music that could come close to it for quite some time. I'm glad to say that I was entirely wrong. And I saw it happen right in front of me, a ten minute walk from where I live.

This brings to mind an experience I had one night in S.W. Ireland when I was over there in March. Sitting by a fire in a cottage in the mountains, lost in a saz trance, I started to get a visual impression of the music emerging from the movements of my fingers on the fretboard. There was a distinct sense of the playing of spontaneous music as a constructive activity; it was as if I was creating a sort of elaborate organic 'architecture' in some kind of mental hyperspace. This architecture took the form of intricate jewelled, fractal towers, bridges and pathways emanating out in endless dimensions. After many hours of this, I felt a pleasant exhaustion similar to that after a period of reasonably hard physical labour, like I'd just finished work in some kind of metaphysical building site.

In the days that followed, this image stuck with me, and I started thinking about all the music going on around the planet, and about the various successful and unsuccessful attempts to 'fuse' different traditions. I now had a visual metaphor for this, and could see crude attempts to weld various types of these intricate constructions together in some cases, and masterful, organic 'dove-tailing' of structures in other cases.

I talked a lot with Sven about this when I visited him in Belgium a couple of weeks later - about the need for genuine, as opposed to superficial-'World Music'-style, fusion. His angle on this was that you can't properly fuse two musical traditions until you've thoroughly immersed yourself in and properly understood both of them, found the common root, perhaps. My experience of mathematics, coupled with this new visual metaphor, made this all very clear to me.

We concluded that this is what the world needs more than anything. It fascinates me that at a time in history where the auto-extermination of humanity is a very real possibility, when the human race faces the very real threat of irreparably damaging its own ecosystem, we also have the first opportunity for all cultures to experience each others' music. I'm left with a feeling that musicians around the world have a huge amount of work to do to build some kind of mysterious unifying 'structure' in the 'hyperspace' caught a glimpse of that night, if we're to stand any chance of survival. The Sosa Trio were one of the most perfect examples of this kind of thing I've ever witnessed - full power to them!


Blogger Tom Kerswill said...

Oh, I wish I had gone! We're doing a gig at the Phoenix this Thursday (9th June) actually - it would be great if you'd like to come!

12:29 AM  

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