The top Bay Area jazz happening of recent weeks was surely John Santos Sextet’s two-night stand at Yoshi’s in Oakland. While Santos is always a notable attraction in these parts, his engagement at the famous East Bay club on March 2 & 3, 2012, was one of those not-to-be-missed gigs whose auditors were glad they made the trip. Upon entering the room for the first set on Friday night, it was clear that the evening was going to be a fun and collaborative one. The main floor of the club was cleared of tables and chairs, a cue the audience understood once the band began playing: everywhere you looked, folks were leaving their seats for the dance floor, finding partners, and moving their bodies to the grooves laid down by the group. Leading the festive proceedings was percussionist, John Santos. As we have come to expect when one of Santos’s groups takes the stage, their combination of traditional Latin styles and modern technical virtuosity made for a compelling, kinetic performance. Spending most of Friday night playing his four congas, Santos occasionally contributed suggestive atmospheric effects with an array of rattles, shakers, chimes, and what appeared to be a branch with tiny, noisy gourds attached to it. He was joined by Dr. John Calloway on flute and piano, Marco Diaz on piano and trumpet, Melecio Magdaluyo on saxophones, Saul Sierra on bass, and David Flores on drums.
To sweeten an already irresistible line-up, Santos augmented his group with several noteworthy guest artists. New York-based Cuban violinist, Anthony Blea, joined the group on numerous tunes with his piercing, amplified fiddle. Santos seemed very pleased with the contributions made by another guest, Orestes Vilató, a timbales maestro from Cuba. The other guest, Brazilian multi-instrumentalist and composer Jovino Santos Neto, was featured on flute, piano, melodia, and percussion. Throughout the evening he demonstrated a formidable talent for musical expression independent of instrument or context. Jovino is from Rio de Janeiro and established himself in the group of Hermeto Pascoal, with whom he played from 1972 until 1992 before moving to Seattle in 1993. One of the members of my party remarked that Jovino, with his slightly unruly white mane, resembled Albert Einstein. I’m not sure I agree about the physical resemblance, but the two share a strong claim for brilliance in their respective fields.
Brightest among the evening’s many highlights were the set closers. Capping a very dance-oriented first set was a rousing performance of “Guayare” which brought the audience to their feet and back to the dance floor. The late set seemed more musically ambitious by comparison with a focus on original compositions by Calloway and Jovino. The evening came to a close with an improvised jam that offered each member of the group an opportunity for a final musical statement. Though all of the members of the band made strong contributions, it was Jovino who astounded with his playfully swinging melodic creations at the piano.
John Santos and his Sextet will be appearing at the Rhythmix Cultural Works in Alameda on Friday, March 23, 2012, from 7:30-9:30. More info here. Though Jovino and the other guests from the Yoshi’s gig are not scheduled to appear, you shouldn’t miss it!