What a great, surprising recording, from a little known New York band, Grupo Los Santos. The band, Paul Carlon on saxophones, Pete Smith on guitar, David Ambrosio on bass and Beaver Bausch on drums are on its third installment and Clave Heart is pretty amazing, a mixture of religious singing and rhythms from Cuba and an absolutely modern Brooklyn jazz sensibility. It is a strange combination at first, because the music seems so right, so authentic in its intent, yet there's nothing traditional or academic about it at all. It all just works right, the group conception, the improvisation, the sound, rough and natural.
The music's also knowing, with Ambrosio holding down the bass parts (he also plays and teaches bata drumming), moving from montunos to funk patterns and jazz, and Smith, the guitarist, snapping out parts as if he were in the James Brown band. There's rock in Smith's playing too, but it's not a default position; at times he sounds like Bill Frisell, or James Blood Ulmer, modern, thoughtful, different. There is a coro singing Santeria, there's tap dancing (Max Pollak, the only non-Cuban ever asked to join Los Munequitos de Matanzas) which adds a density to the percussion that oddly never sounds clogged. Again, it all sounds right.
But this is a different project; there's nothing like it that I've heard. It's Latin jazz, I suppose, but the term seems antiquated and inadequate to describe what's going on. It's just bright and new modern music that knows a ton about the Afro Cuban tradition, and a ton about the modern jazz tradition, and isn't afraid to take liberties with it all.