John Santos wants to draw attention to the virtually institutionalized segregation between Afro-American and Afro-Caribbean communities. He has always been painfully aware of this and condemns it in more ways than one. The most damning condemnation of it is his daunting experiments to unify the two communities through the most extraordinary cultural collision: and that is through Filosofía Caribeña, Vol. 1. (Machete Records – 2011), a superb musical odyssey by the John Santos Sextet, one of several ensembles that have followed his erstwhile one, The Machete Ensemble. Born in California, but with a cultural heritage that cuts deep into the Afro-Caribbean Diaspora, Santos is eminently qualified to be both socio-politically aware of the ramifications of crying foul about cultural segregation as well as wielding the enormous palette from which this music is sprung.
This is an album with a sweeping concept that cuts across a wide swathe of music’s topography from Europe and Asia to the Americas. Much of the music of today makes attempts to recreate such an enormous cultural geography, but fails because it is not privy to the mystical secrets that the spirituality inherent in the music of each diaspora. However, Santos somehow manages to bring this together. In fact he does more than manage; he succeeds in being a force or conduit in the passage of this music. That is because he is hugely creative in himself and like a modern apothecary he presides over the music’s creation from behind his enormous battery of drums. That he extracts music from the second oldest instrument (the oldest being the human voice) has everything to do with his extraordinary achievement here. Then there is the fact that the music comes via one of the touchstones in the contemporary music of the Americas: New Orleans and the Creole environment that created the melting pot that made the music bubble and boil. But not only Creole… When the Sextet—especially Dr. John Calloway on flute and the saxophone virtuoso, Melecio Magdaluyo—interweave their contrapuntal harmonies in homage to the towering figure of Ron Stallings, Santos’ so-called Filosofía is spectacularly borne out: Music is an uttering from the depths of the artist’s soul and just a soul cannot, and does not distinguish by means of color, so also does the creation itself born of the sheer joy of human triumph over all adversity, especially that which keeps people apart.
Thus the importance of the true melding of the hot blues and soul of Afro-American and Afro-Caribbean music; of swing and shuffle in music that dances celebrates ALL human existence with pure joy. And few ensembles do it better than those led by Santos. This is how this suite of music ought to be enjoyed, for this is how it was written and played—as a tribute to living La Vida Loca through mystery, magic sheer joy.
1. He Was One of Us
2. La Rumba Me Lleva
3. El Esqueleto Rumbero
4. No Soy Combatiente
5. Pop’s Brim
7. The Sense of Now
9. Siete Cuevas
10. Ponme A Gozar
11. Carnaval SF.
Dr. John Calloway: flute (1 – 5, 7 – 11), alto flute (2), piano (6, 11); Melecio Magdaluyo: tenor saxophone (1, 8, 9), soprano saxophone (3 – 5, 7), baritone saxophone (6, 10, 11), alto saxophone (11), flute (2); Saul Sierra: bass; Marco Diaz: piano (1 – 5, 7 – 10), trumpets (6, 11); David Flores: drum set (1 – 10), kata (2), kick and snare drums (11); Joey Deleon: tumbadoras (2 – intro, 6), segundo (2), quinto (6), Iyá batá (6), rebajador (11); Javier Navarette: cachimbo (2 – intro), clave (2), batás, chékere (6), quinto (11); John Santos: caxixis, tumbadoras, batá, chékere, gong, cymbals, caja, tumbadoras (intro), quinto, cajón, bomba, pailatas, güiro, ganza, tambourine, tumba, salidor, segundo, bells, snare, maruga, miscellaneous percussion, coro; Willie Ludwig: coro (8); Beatriz Muñiz: coro (8).
John Santos on the web: www.johnsantos.com
Review written by: Raul da Gama