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The John Santos Sextet: Filosofía Caribeña, Vol. 1

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In a career that already spans nearly 40 years, Bay Area percussionist John Santos has played many roles, including performer, bandleader, composer, producer and teacher. The elegant Filosofía Caribeña, Vol. 1 offers a glimpse into an ambitious multi-disciplinary performance project about the relationship between the African-American and Afro-Latin cultures. Playing them off each other naturally invites reflection into some of the issues connecting and separating these communities, one of the objectives of the larger project.

The album represents “about half of the compositions of the finished work,” according to Santos’ notes. It is also mostly instrumental. (A second volume is expected to incorporate spoken word.) Santos, handling a variety of percussion instruments, anchors a group featuring John Calloway, flute; Melecio Magdaluyo, sax; Marco Díaz, piano; Saul Sierra, bass; and David Flores, drums. The writing is smart and thoughtful but also playful; several of these tracks would play well at a dance party. The crafty arranging uses a sort of heaven-and-earth combination with a lighter, airy sound on top and a forceful, muscular percussion at its base, giving the music a strong but not overpowering drive. (Check the rumba “El Esqueleto Rumbero” or the easy swing of “Pop’s Brim.”) Santos understands an essential principle: If you truly have something to say it might be better understood if you don’t yell.

Originally Published