Best Latin Artist

John Santos

In spite of, or perhaps because of, his lack of formal training — limited to roughly three years of clarinet lessons during childhood — East Oakland percussionist John Santos really follows the beat of his own drum. During a recent concert with Cuban pianist Omar Sosa, he played syncopated clave beats on conga and batán drum, plus a whole arsenal of toy instruments: shakers, castanets, tiny gourds, music boxes, sleigh bells, chimes, and button box accordions. His Latin jazz quintet combined post-bop and folk influences to produce one of the best albums of 2007, and currently has a new one in the works. But that’s only one of many forthcoming projects from a bandleader who always has multiple records in production. He’s also working on an album composed almost entirely of vocal coro and drum, so it has the coarse texture and antiphonal, call-and-response style of folkloric music. Though he enjoys linking contemporary forms back to their source material, Santos never over intellectualizes his creative process. What’s most important is that he can always get a groove going.

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