Acoustic pianist Omar Sosa has done his share of ensemble work, and he has often demonstrated that he is an insightful, thoughtful arranger. But the Cuban improviser takes a break from ensemble work on Ayaguna, which focuses on a July 25, 2002, concert in Yokohama, Japan. This time, Sosa forms an intimate duo with Venezuelan drummer Gustavo Ovalles, who plays a variety of Latin percussion -- not only the Afro-Cuban percussion one would expect to hear on a Sosa album, but also various Venezuelan percussion instruments that are used in traditional joropo music. The two musicians enjoy a strong rapport throughout this Latin jazz/post-bop CD, which tends to have a very spiritual quality. In fact, some of the material is mindful of Santeria, a Caribbean faith that contains elements of Catholicism as well as the West African Yoruba religion. Santeria is practiced in Cuba and other parts of Latin America, and titles like "Eleggua in the Road" and "Dias de Iyawo" underscore Sosa's interest in the Yoruba and Santeria beliefs. But listeners don't have to know anything about Yoruba or Santeria to appreciate Ayaguna; whatever one's spiritual leanings, it is obvious that Sosa plays with a great deal of feeling on these performances. Sosa is a lively yet lyrical improviser who combines Latin and African elements with the influence of McCoy Tyner, Chick Corea, and George Duke (among others). And because he doesn't have a whole ensemble to worry about at this Japanese concert, his playing tends to be especially free-spirited and uninhibited. Ayaguna is a pleasing addition to Sosa's catalog.
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AllMusic Review by Alex Henderson