If you can manage to be in more than one place at a time and you happen to live in Miami these days, congratulations, next weekend is made for you. The rest of us, mere mortals, if we like music, we’ll have to make some hard choices. Below, a few lines on Omar Sosa, James “Blood” Ulmer and Sammy Figueroa, all appearing in the area this weekend. (Also, DJ Le Spam and the Spam Allstars, another personal favorite, present Trans-Oceanic, their 10-years-in-the-making new recording, at the North Beach Bandshell, Saturday. More on that later.)
So, for your consideration …
Omar Sosa, Trilok Gurtu and Paolo Fresu
Omar Sosa, Trilok Gurtu and Paolo Fresu, at FIU’s Wertheim Performing Arts Center, Saturday.The work of Cuban pianist and composer Omar Sosa reflects a Pan-African vision by which rumba, hip-hop, blues or Gnawa music are simply different expressions of the same culture. “We are children of the same Mother,” he says on the notes for Afreecanos (2008). “And … even though our sounds are geographically separate, we are all close in essence, concepts and roots.”
It is a wide, open embrace that Sosa seems to be continually expanding.
Sosa, with Italian trumpeter Paolo Fresu and Indian percussionist Trilok Gurtu, is appearing at FIU’s Wertheim Performing Arts Center, Saturday at 8 p.m. The concert closes the 4th annual Miami International Jazz Fest.
“Paolo is from Sardinia, he´s an islander, like me, and being surrounded by the sea impregnates you of something special, you better believe it, and that also brings us together,” Sosa said in a recent conversation. “Also, in Cuba we have a lot of Africa, but Sardinia has a lot of Africa too.” As for Gurtu, “Trilok is a reference for me. He was one of the first who entered the universe of what today we call World Jazz,” he noted. “His [musical] universe is so personal but also so broad that he is one moment playing India and suddenly he can take you to Africa. I don’t know anyone who knows as much about African music.”
Fresu and Sosa, who first played and recorded together on Sosa’s Promise (2007), have since released two excellent recordings, Alma (2012) and Eros (2016). They have been performing with Gurtu for more than four years, but the concert Saturday is part of the trio’s debut tour in the United States.
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James Blood Ulmer
If both are true, the avant-garde and the roots of the tradition are not that far apart. Consider guitarist James Blood Ulmer. Rarely the term “avant-gutbucket” has been used so appropriately as when describing Ulmer’s work. His sort of neo-primitivist approach, muscular and rough-edged, results in a highly original sound, at once sophisticated and raw. While perhaps still best known for his association with Ornette Coleman in the early ’70s, Ulmer has had a long and rich solo career since, putting his stamp on free jazz, rock and funk. In recent years, he has brought the blues elements in his playing and singing to the fore and the results have been mesmerizing. (Check Birthright (2005) or Bad Blood in the City (2007), both produced by Vernon Reid)
Ulmer is playing a solo show at the Miami-Dade County Auditorium at 8:30 p.m.
It is the closing event of Tigertail’s Fire festival.
Perhaps he was enjoying his role as super-sideman a bit much (or quietly proving how smart he is) but percussionist Sammy Figueroa took his sweet time to take on the complicated business of being a bandleader. It has worked pretty well, however. Since he moved to South Florida in 2001, Figueroa accepted the challenge, recorded four albums under his own name, earned two Latin GRAMMY nominations and has led consistently fine ensembles. Something particularly rewarding: his approach and his music continues to develop. He makes a rare “local” appearance at the Arts Garage, in Delray Beach, Friday.
Out and About. Field Notes.
A very engaging, fun show by Herencia de Timbiquí, one of the premier bands from the Pacific coast of Colombia, and their audience at the Koubek Center, Miami Dade College, Saturday. The 11-piece group, featuring both, traditional and electric instruments, blends Afro-Colombian rhythms from the Pacific coast with pop, salsa and rock elements. They put on a strong show but still, half of the fun Saturday for me was the audience, which danced and sang along pretty much from beginning to end.
The event was programmed to be outdoors, but it’s April in Miami and it rained, so it had to be moved into the intimate 200 seat theater in the facility, nice but much too small to accommodate everybody. Organizers and group found a fair solution: a club-like two-set arrangement. Few asked for a refund. The audience, overwhelmingly Colombian, of course, was orderly divided and those who made it in for the first show turned what would have been a good concert into a terrific neighborhood party. Those who patiently waited for the second show were serenaded by a deejay playing Colombian music.
At one point, as they walked into the theater, they broke into an old Grupo Niche song. (Niche is from Cali, and its late co-founder and director, Jairo Varela, was from Quibdó, both in the Pacific coast. As it turns out, his daughter was in attendance.)
Just a wild guess, but I have the feeling the second set became a party too.
One thing is to be an instrumentalist and another very different is to be a musician who plays an instrument. Cuban drummer, composer and bandleader Dafnis Prieto‘s solo features in the Frost Salsa Orchestra concert at the University of Miami, Thursday, were no look-at-me exhibitions but instant compositions. In the first one, which served as the beginning of the segment of the concert dedicated to his big band music, he vocalized rhythms against a pair of claves. For the second one, later on in the concert, he sat at the drum kit and told a story in rhythm, with purpose, a clear form and dynamics. Yes, he was technically impressive, but the lesson was that it was still, and always, about music, not an athletic demonstration.
Prieto also conducted four beautifully plotted pieces for big band from his upcoming recording. Looking forward to it.
And hats off to Alberto De La Reguera, composer and director of the Salsa Orchestra, which was celebrating its 25th anniversary. This year’s band sounded terrific, powerful, precise but loose. We’ll hear from many of these players again. As for De La Reguera’s work, it sounds obvious for a Miami music school to have a Latin orchestra — now. It wasn’t always the case. A salute to him and to all who have contributed over the years to make it happen, including pianist and arranger Shelly Berg, the current Dean of the Frost School of Music. In recent years, the school has deepened its commitment to Afro-Latin music, adding to its faculty top musicians such as Prieto, Gonzalo Rubalcaba and Brian Lynch. Smart.