The John Santos Quintet
A musician’s perspective is their unique view of the world, shaped by their life and shared through music. Life experiences shape a musician’s perspective in many ways; every event in a musician’s life has an effect on their overall perception of the world. Upbringing, ritual, and tradition all foster a musician’s cultural perceptions, and the value that they place upon their heritage. Exposure to other lives and beliefs can expand an individual’s perspective, helping them look at the world through another person’s eyes. As musicians translate their perspective into sound, that worldview, background, and exposure shines through their compositions. They look at the core of their musical foundation through every angle of their unique perspective, providing several different musical settings. The depth of an artist’s work and the strength of their musical message rely upon their ability to call upon these different perspectives when constructing their work. Percussionist John Santos and his Quintet explore Latin Jazz through a broad perspective on Perspectiva Fragmentada, examining the art form several angles.
Looking At The Music Through A Traditional Perspective
Several pieces view Latin Jazz through a traditional perspective, drawing upon important styles in Cuban music. “Campana La Luisa” opens with a rubato vocal statement from Willie Ludwig, leading into a clever lyric that winds through both afro and son rhythms. Tresero Nelson Gonzalez winds tipico lines over the son foundation, creating a strong momentum with rhythmic ideas. As the coro returns, Orestes Vilató demonstrates his intimate familiarity with the son through an attention grabbing bongó solo, followed by a powerful timbale solo from Jose Clausell. Flautist John Calloway and violinist Anthony Blea play intertwining lines over a danzon rhythm on “Chiquita,” followed by a delicate melodic reading from pianist Marco Diaz. Blea leads the group into the mambo section with a catchy montuno until unison band breaks introduce his solo. Blea’s improvisation tears through the groove with quick lines and sharp rhythms, until Calloway makes his own statement, full of tipico grace and jazz flair. Diaz and bassist Saul Sierra lay the foundations of a classic descarga as Calloway and Santos exchange ideas on “Visan,” followed by upbeat solos from Vilato and Calloway. The band falls into a funky cha cha cha groove, allowing Vilato to express himself with a series of ideas that traces directly back to his Nuyorican background. The band finds a path into a bembe rhythm, which serves as an inspiration to Santos, who improvises through the song with knowledge and depth. Sierra plays a short improvisation over a guaguanco in tribute to the late Israel “Cachao” Lopez before the band moves into a graceful danzon on “Israel y Aristides.” As the band moves into the mambo section, Calloway’s flute and Melecio Magdaluyo’s clarinet play intertwining lines resolving into an aggressive Abakuá rhythm. Blea, Diaz, and Calloway each play solos here, fully investing themselves into the song’s strength and forward motion. Santos clearly expresses his deep connection to tradition on these songs, sharing his informed perspective on Cuban styles.
Showing Depth Through A Jazz Viewpoint
Santos looks at the genre with a jazz perspective as well, emphasizing improvisation and jazz harmony. An energetic montuno from Diaz leads into a bebop-tinged melody on “Mexico City Blues.” Diaz, Magdaluyo, Calloway, and Sierra each take solo choruses, blending blues flavor with rhythmic invention. The rhythm section provides powerful support as Santos explodes into an aggressive solo, matched with a powerful statement from bongocero Javier Navarrette. A unison percussion break leads into a subtly rhythmic melody from Calloway and Magdaluyo on “Ritmático.” Sierra’s catchy and hypnotic line anchors the descarga, as bongocero Johnny Rodriguez, Santos, and Vilato each make improvisatory statements. Vilato builds his solo to an exciting climax as Magdaluyo explodes into a ferocious improvisation. A rubato introduction from Calloway leads into a subdued texture on “Perspectiva Fragmentada,” where Sierra, Calloway, and Diaz all take turns with the melody. As the band jumps into an energetic son montuno, Calloway winds solo ideas between the coro. Diaz and Sierra establish a stuttering ostinato pattern as conguero Harold Muñiz enthusiastically solos until the melody returns. There’s a gentle sway to the bata rhythm beneath the soulful yet reflective melody on “Not In Our Name” that conveys a simultaneous peace and sense of loss. Magdaluyo digs into the feel with an introspective, creative, and bluesy solo that at times recalls Michael Brecker. Calloway takes a short but potent improvisation that reveals a melodic beauty inherent in the song. As Santos shares his view on the music with a jazz emphasis, he reveals a broad perspective filled with varied experiences.
Looking Through An Experimental Lens
Other songs place an experimental lens upon the genre, smartly mixing together a variety of ideas to expose a unique perspective. Magdaluyo solos melodically over a bongó groove on the introduction to “No Te Hundes (Don’t Drown Yourself),” eventually joined by a funky groove from Murray Low’s synthesizer, David Belove’s electric bass, and Paul Van Wageningen’s drum kit. Once the groove hits full stride, trumpet player Ray Vega assertively explores the texture, wrapping jazz lines around the bomba. A coro enters the mix, providing an opportunity for a passionate improvisation from vocalist Jerry Medina, followed by an improvisational exchange from Muñiz, Vega, and Magdaluyo. A series of band breaks leads into a unison line from Sierra and Gonzalez over a mozambique rhythm on “Mi Corazon Borincano,” followed by a commanding vocal from Orlando Torriente. Surrounded by an energetic coro and rhythmic horn lines, Torriente displays an improvisatory prowess that pushes the band into high gear. Riding off Torriente’s energy, Vilato bursts into a strong timbale solo, leading into an assertive statement from conguero Johnny Rivero. A quick rumba rumbles beneath Calloway’s improvisation on “Consejo,” as Santos adds improvisatory embellishments on cajon. After a unison melody from Calloway and Sierra, Diaz storms into an album highlight improvisation that screams with rhythmic tension. Vilato senses the energy and continues the momentum with a solo that shines with his years of experience and youthful spirit. There’s a smart enthusiasm behind the experimentation here that looks at each stylistic combination with a knowledgeable viewpoint.
An Inspiring Look Through Santos’ Eyes
Santos and his group apply a broad perspective to their compositions on Perspectiva Fragmentada, giving us an insightful look into their artistic personalities. The group obviously values the tradition and history behind Afro-Cuban music and jazz, and their years of experience allow them to share this viewpoint. At the same time, Santos understands the importance of his group’s individual perspectives, framing tradition within their own ideas. The resultant musical mixture intertwines Cuban son, rumba, and danzon with rich jazz harmonies, funk undertones, and gospel soulfulness. Along the way, there’s always an informed and respectful tone, a vision that both honors the past and looks into the future. The musicians wholeheartedly indulge in sharing their individual perspectives with energetic and engaging performances. Vilato demonstrates the technique and style that have cemented his reputation as a living legend while the younger Diaz explodes with passion and fire. Calloway exudes class with his knowledgeable and melodic approach to improvisation while guests Blea and Magdaluyo thrive alongside the quintet. Perspectiva Fragmentada delivers an inspiring look through Santos’ eyes, sharing a rich perspective upon the musical world and the greater society that resonates with humanity, knowledge, and soul.
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