Omar Sosa & Adam Rudolph

Pictures of Soul

In the liner notes to Pictures of Soul pianist Omar Sosa calls his extraordinarily focused improvisations with pioneering world-jazz percussionist Adam Rudolph a channeling of "the messages of those who guide us in each moment, the Spirits and our Ancestors." Indeed, each of the 16 tracks on this disc -- the Cuban expat's 10th release on his Oakland-based record label since 1997 -- comes across with all the patience, solemnity, and fervor of prayer.

Both Rudolph and Sosa have long explored transcendence at the altar of in-the-moment musicmaking. For nearly three decades, the L.A.-based hand drum virtuoso has performed on the front lines of multicultural innovation, collaborating with a host of fellow gurus, from jazz legend Yusef Lateef to Hassan Hakmoun, the Gnawan trance-music master with whom in the late '80s he helped popularize the concept of a borderless fusion. On 2002's Grammy-nominated Sentir, Sosa's most accomplished album prior to this latest effort, the pianist dug deep into his Afro-Cuban roots with a percussion-rich improv combo that reached all the way back to the griot traditions of Mother Africa.

The power of the duo's intuitive rhythmic interplay on Pictures taps a similar energy, as if reclaiming the original role of the drum as ambassador from the Great Beyond. The piano, after all, is fundamentally a tonal percussion instrument, and Sosa clearly uses it in this way, whether waxing lyrical in "Eye of the Blackbird" or laying down a resonant three-chord vamp in "The Call." In high-octane pieces like "Kachirumba" and "Trace of Burning Stars," he matches his partner's compelling give-and-take on a variety of hand drums with his own beat-heavy lines, marrying a kind of New World jazz with an ancient celebratory ritual that may bring some listeners ecstatic visions and others to their knees.

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