John Santos 

La Guerra No and Perspectiva Fragmentada

The word "indefatigable" comes to mind when describing Oakland percussionist John Santos, who mints albums at a rate of one or two a year, and finds an excuse for a session whenever any significant Latin artist comes to town. Yet sheer inexhaustibility plays second fiddle to inexhaustible creativity in Santos' oeuvre. Last year's quintet album Papa Mambo expanded on the Latin-jazz tradition by incorporating contemporary rhythmic patterns and compelling shifts in groove. This year Santos got even more adventurous with the simultaneous release of La Guerra No — a vocal and drums album featuring El Coro Folklórico Kindembo — and the more contemporary Latin-jazz album, Perspectiva Fragmentada. The coro album is arresting, mostly owing to its sparse template. With a couple exceptions most tracks revel in the spare beauty of antiphonal vocals and Santos' intricate battery of drums.

In contrast, Perspectiva Fragmentada is a robust album with about nineteen guest musicians, including violinist Anthony Blea, trumpeter Ray Vega, and saxophonist Melecio Magdaluyo, who tend to dominate the tracks on which they appear. The unwieldy cast is anchored by Santos' extraordinarily capable quintet, which includes flautist John Calloway, bassist Saul Sierra, pianist Marco Diaz, and Orestes Vilató on timbales. The bandleader's choice of material is fascinating. He uses Latin instrumentation and Caribbean rhythms but trusts his ensemble to take liberties. Thus, Guatemalan native Diaz plays some abstract changes on "Visan" (a percussive song described in the liner notes as Santos' homage to Vilató), rendering it more clamorous and exciting. By far the best tune is the post-Katrina ballad "Not in Our Name," a slow hymn with a clop-clopping batá groove that recalls a New Orleans funeral procession. Magdaluyo's tenor sax shores up the pathos, but also sounds elastic and hopeful. (Machete)


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