Of the many diverse and varied projects Omar Sosa has had the opportunity to explore, this is his first with a full-sized orchestra. For Ceremony, the more than capable NDR Bigband from Hamburg, Germany, backs Sosa in a program of original Afro-Cuban and world-based music. All of the compositions are Sosa's as arranged by Jaques Morelenbaum, who sits in on cello as well. There's a powerful dynamic between Sosa and the group, as he plays his primary instrument, the piano, and occasionally percussion, vibes, and notably the marimba. Selected soloists from NDR get spotlighted, but the instrumentalists concentrate on blending together, buoying Sosa's heady, organized music, cooking with Latin rhythms that always bubble and simmer, rarely boiling over. With the Santeria, Orishas, and Yoruba spirits in mind, the group creates powerful village-based tribal music, as in the bookended tracks "Llegada con Elegba" and "Salida con Elegba," driven by jazz flutes or swelling electronic shadings alongside violin tears, respectively. Romantically inclined, "Danzón de Tus Ojos" suggests the charanga style with delicate, swooning violin in a lighter vein, while the slowed, exotic "Carambabá" sinks slow into the late-night air of a sweltering sky. In a complex arena, "Changó en Esmeraldas" is Sosa's most ambitious piece, starting in typical 6/8 meter with constantly changing accents and punctuations within the rhythm, while "Yemaya en Agua Larga" has 4/4 to 6/8 beats cleverly informing the underground and overhead horns that seem to track each other's movements without exploiting or violating their contrasting color palettes. In the strictest of Latin subgenres, "Cha con Marimba" slices and dices the horns into variable accents and a lusty trombone solo from Dan Gottshall, with Sosa's wooden vibes in late, while "Monkurú" takes angular, experimental bop jazz into a slinky, sly mood, swinging with spiky, sped-up accents. Whether tromping, stomping, dancing, prancing, or shouting out, the NDR band is more than up to the task of lifting the already high grade of Sosa's vision to the level of absolute, utter brilliance. Great music is in short supply, but for Omar Sosa, every recording he does makes it seem like child's play, and he's done it yet again with this fantastic album. It's another feather in his cap that is running out of room for hatband space, and like the others, comes highly recommended.
AllMusic Review by Michael G. Nastos