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Wednesday, May 18, 2011

James Blake's Lonely Beginnings, Omar Sosa's Afro-Cuban Cocktail, and More

Posted By on Wed, May 18, 2011 at 8:15 AM

From SF Weekly's latest print music section:

click to enlarge James Blake
  • James Blake

James Blake: The time in James Blake's life we might call his long winter -- from which he emerged this year with a phosphorescent debut album -- began as far back as the early '90s with his first piano lesson. There, at the age of 5, he began to dissect sound with a surgeon's chilly precision. The habit dies hard, apparently. Within the sparse synthscapes of his eponymous debut, released in February, we hear the telltale pop and hiss of things pulled apart. The 11 tracks on James Blake fall upon the ear like an avalanche of soul music clichés that are gradually, though violently, broken up through continental drift.

The thaw began in 2006. The prior year, the 15-year-old Blake began studying at Goldsmiths College in London, gangly and pale and emitting an unusual intensity about his subject -- popular music. "I've always got on with people," he told The Scotsman. "But I was very happy to be shutting the door and retreating into my own little world." Within the rubber fortress of two earbuds, he'd discovered a universe teeming with complexity, beginning with a voice of singular clarity and warmth. He had found Canadian singer-songwriter Joni Mitchell and her 1972 album, Blue.

click to enlarge omar_sosa_in_print.jpg

Omar Sosa: Pianist Omar Sosa is on a musical and spiritual mission. His music, steeped in Afro-Cuban and jazz influences, melds traditional and modern sounds (and aesthetics) to show the unseen threads that connect cultures throughout the African diaspora. His mission has taken him into myriad musical settings that have been documented on an impressive array of recordings. His rare stop in the Bay Area at Yoshi's this week is a sort of musical homecoming.

The Cuban-born pianist spent three years in the Bay Area in the '90s -- a period that marked a turning point in his career. "It was the first time I did what I felt," Sosa explains in a phone interview. He began exploring the roots of African music a decade earlier, but it was here that his sound took shape. Sosa particularly admired the vision and work of percussionist John Santos, who was already an established figure on the Bay Area Latin music scene. Santos became pivotal, offering moral support and hiring Sosa to tour with his Machete Ensemble. Wednesday's show will see the two reunited, with Santos performing as a featured sideman in Sosa's Afreecanos Quintet.

Also, we recommend shows from Knitters, the Fiery Furnaces, Peanut Butter Wolf, and Gyptian and Etana.

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