Who thought that the wild, lively sound of Dominican merengue could be woven into a subtle and melodic web that beautifully brings out its underlying delicacy? If you haven’t then you probably didn’t hear the virtuoso drummer and percussionist Junior Santos bring it to life by melding his Dominican roots in the merengue, pambiche, pri pri and other Dominican rhythms with jazzy improvisations on his JUNO nominated [Jazz Album of the Year: Solo 2021] debut album, Conpambiche.
The Dominican-born Canadian has brought together eleven compositions into an exemplary collection of songs – poetic expressions of emotional music that express internal journeys of wide emotional range from youthful love to sensual pleasures and stoic wisdom that he inherited from his musician-father. Through it all, Mr Santos shows himself to be a musician of inexhaustible energy, phenomenal technique, bravura expression that he joyfully shares with a group of wonderful musicians.
Mr Santos has a commanding way with the battery of traditional Afri-centric percussion that he plays – as well as with the traditional [so to speak] drumset, so popular in music since the turn of the 20th century. He has also inducted the celebrated Cuban-Canadian rumbero Joaquín Núñez Hidalgo, who brings the full range of the philosophical eloquence of the [Afro-Cuban] bàtá drums to fruition, conveying the open-hearted nobility of this spiritual-centred instrument with a real sense of poetry.
Of course, Mr Hidalgo is not the only superstar who makes his presence felt on this exquisite album. Also shining with their stellar performances are the inimitable [Cuban-Canadians] – pianist Hilario Durán, soloing with characteristic, insolent virtuosity on “Jari’s” and Pri Pri”, and bassist and vocalist Roberto Linares Brown. Mr Durán shares piano duties with the exquisite Sandor Schwisberg and Mr Linares Brown. The Dominican saxophonist Sandy Gabriel solos with uncommon elegance and power on “Tambora Blues” and “Papa Boco”. The supremacy of the bass chair is held by masters such as Paco Luviano, JT Kim, Jonathan Amador and Juan Pablo Domínguez.
The great flutist Bill McBirnie makes masterful forays into improvised music on “Sayen” and “Areito” further cementing his reputation as one of the great masters of that instrument. Meanwhile, the rising star saxophonist Luis Deniz, together with Arik Arakelyan and guitarist Gary Lee Hill bring their musicianship skills to this project, shining on their instruments. But make no mistake: this is a memorable event marking the masterful debut of Junior Santos who does so by presenting a vivid slice-of-life while showcasing his rich Afro-Dominican spiritual and musical heritage. Meanwhile we await – with great expectation – much more music from the powerful hands of this percussion colourist.
Tracks – 1: Tambora Blues; 2: Jari’s; 3: Papa Boco; 4: Tigre en la Habana; 5: Pri Pri; 6: Sayen; 7: Areito; 8: Guananico; 9: Mangualina-O; 10: Pri Pri 2; 11: Jari’s 2.
Musicians – Sandor Schwisberg: piano [1, 3, 6 – 11]; Hilario Durán: piano [2, 5]; Roberto Linares Brown: piano  and vocals; JT Kim: bass [1 – 3, 6 – 8]; Paco Luviano: bass [2, 5, 6, 10]; Jonathan Amador: bass [9, 11]; Juan Pablo Domínguez: bass ; Sandy Gabriel: saxophone [1, 3 – 5, 7]; Luis Deniz: saxophone [2, 9, 10]; Arik Arakelyan: saxophone ; Bill McBirnie: flute [3, 6, 7]; Gary Lee Hill: guitar [5, 10]; Junior Santos: drums [2 – 5, 8 – 10] and tambora [1, 3, 4, 6, 7], güira [1, 3, 4, 6 – 8], congas [1, 3, 5 – 7, 11], timbales [2, 4, 11], bongó  and percussion ; Joaquín Núñez Hidalgo: congas [2, 4], bàtá [3, 5, 9, 11] and cajón .
Released – 2022
Label – CD Baby
Runtime – 46:33