Grupo Los Santos is a small ensemble that melds together a number of idioms and metaphors that are culled from jazz to Afro-Caribbean in a powerful, muscular mix of music that is original and memorable.
On Clave Heart this music emerges with much swagger and rhythmic intensity as each song unfurls narrating the story of a journey that is flush with melodic invention, harmonic complexity and rhythmic excitement. Most interesting of all is the instrumentation of the ensemble and how it is used. The manner in which the guitar of Pete Smith slices through the dense harmonies with alacrity and sharply pronounced notes that sometimes change into fat, round ones plays in counterpoint with the dry rush of Paul Carlon’s saxophones and makes wonderful harmonic progressions on charts like “Future Homage”.
But the center-piece of the album is “Clave Heart” a chart that was purportedly based on the oscillations and palpitations of a cardiac monitor. Such parched antecedents might otherwise become tedious to listen to were it not for the interesting musical interpretation of a hospital monitor and is at once reminiscent of the Paul Desmond classic, “Take Five”. The music here is awash with rhythmic intensity that comes from the magnificent pizzicato slashing of David Ambrosio’s acoustic bass, which is underpinned by the resonant overdubs of the batá drums—also played by Mr. Ambrosio. William “Beaver” Bausch adds drama and density to the rhythmic content and all of this is offset by the high and mighty horn and the wonderful harmonies of the guitar. Thus the song morphs from the pulsations of an inanimate machine into an interminably danceable chart.
All of this excitement is not only contained in just one chart, but continues through the rest of the record. And this is largely due to an inherent feel for the clave beat that propels Afro-Caribbean and other Latin American music. Clearly the throb of clave is buried deep in the heart and soul of these musicians. The complexities of this rhythm are explored in all its magic and mystery, from the duple pulse of 4/4 (broken down into 2/2 and 2/4) to the challenging 12/8 or the 6/8 pulsations, it is all there on the album and each time the sticks beat each other or the skins, or each time that Mr. Ambrosio thumps on the skins of the batás the beating heart of Afro-Caribbean clave comes to life.
Some high praise must also be served out to guitarist Pete Smith and saxophonist Paul Carlon who add multiple layers of colour and so enrich the musical canvas to a mighty viscosity that the music comes to life in all its glory on that moist canvas. However the most interesting colours and hues come from the bass of Mr. Ambrosio, who can also incidentally play con arco with a great deal of emotion and ingenuity, as he shows on “Illuminado”. It is also here that Carlon’s beautiful tone enlivens the melody as well as the harmony of the chart. There is great deal of understated elegance in this music and it climaxes in the glorious ending to the piece.
The musical elegance continues on “Afrekete Blue” which rumbles along with the same intensity that propels the inflections of “Clave Heart”. “Algo Azul” is harmonically rich and is built again on the pizzicato introduction from Mr. Ambrosio into a menacing sounding and rather fast cha cha chá. Once again horn and guitar collide to provide much harmonic colour to this piece. The harmonics of “Rumba Para Kaori” are, however, the most interesting on this set as they put the ravishing tenor against the high flying flute of the group’s guest flutist, Kaori Fujii. There is also a challenging mid-section that features contrapuntal conversations between bass and guitar, and bass and tenor. All of this leaves the listener with a feeling of hypnosis at experiencing a wonderful, unforgettable record form a group that prides itself on a musical curiosity that knows no bounds.
Tracks: Entre Dongan Y Arden; Future Homage; No T; Clave Heart; Dimelo; Illuminado; Afrekete Blue; Algo Azul; Tug Of War; Rumba Para Kaori.
Personnel: Paul Carlon: tenor and soprano saxophones, vocals; Pete Smith: guitar, vocals; David Ambrosio: acoustic bass, batá, vocals; William “Beaver” Bausch: drum set, vocals; Max Pollak: tap dance/Rumba Tap, vocals; Kaori Fujii: flute.
Grupo Los Santos on the Web: www.grupolossantos.com
Label: OA2 Records
Release date: September 2012
Reviewed by: Raul da Gama