Percussionist John Santos combines traditional Afro-Cuban elements with modern jazz. Formed in 1986, his Machete Ensemble is so-named because of the connotation that tool has woven into Caribbean culture. The machete was used throughout history for harvesting sugar cane, and in certain circumstances also as a weapon during violent confrontations. Representing both sides of the ocean, Afro-Cuban music draws from the collective experience of separate cultures by emphasizing their common factors. Santos’ tribute honors the masters of Afro-Cuban music as well as the fathers of modern jazz. With a fresh big band sound, his 8-piece ensemble blends both the traditional and the contemporary in Afro-Cuban jazz.
Cachao and Chocolate Armenteros sit in for a traditional look on "Himno de las Razas," a Santos composition. Machete regulars Ron Stallings, John Calloway, Melecio Magdaloyo and Wayne Wallace solo around the room and then come together in early bebop harmony for Charlie Parker’s "Moose the Mooche." Tenor saxophonist Stallings, later featured on Syeeda’s Song Flute, embraces Santos and the other percussionists with open arms. They work together as one big happy family. The entrance Orestes Vilató makes after a percussion jam is of particular interest because he restarts the song’s melody for the ensemble to continue – a timbalero playing melody. "So What" and "Tin Tin Deo" offer more solid examples of what Santos means when he says that this project is a tribute to the masters of Afro-Cuban jazz.