The John Santos Quintet 

Papa Mambo

Even with the rise of hybrid groups like Ozomatli and AguaLibre, no musician has illustrated the protean quality of Latin music like Oakland percussionist John Santos. Roughly six months since the dissolution of his ten-piece Machete Ensemble, the apparently indefatigable bandleader returns with what has to be one of the most exciting local jazz albums of the year. With Papa Mambo, Santos introduces a new quintet featuring flutist John Calloway, bassist Saul Sierra, bongo drummer Orestes Vilató, and Guatemalan pianist Marco Diaz — who gets the groove going and delivers a chunky solo on the album's third track, a little bossa number called "Second Wind." The best thing about Papa Mambo is that you can tell most of its songs were written from a drummer's perspective. On tunes like "Laneology" — which kicks off with a superfunky snare and cowbell drum pattern — Santos tries some really imaginative rhythms, shifting time signatures and bringing his whole arsenal of percussion instruments to the fore (he also scats a verse). More importantly, he carves out a space for Diaz and the horn players to explore their own percussive qualities. Though Santos uses Afro-Caribbean rhythms as his point of departure, he's obviously keen on diversifying the Latin-jazz portfolio. On Papa Mambo, he succeeds. — Rachel Swan


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