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Angel Heart 05:42
Ashanti 08:23
Till Then 04:36
Spunky 05:15
Basilar 05:46
Mr Monk 06:56
Portrait 02:29


On the stand-up acoustic bass, jazz maestro Santi Debriano plays with the physicality of a
linebacker and the grace of a ballerina. As a composer, Debriano is a shape shifter, a conjurer of
melodies and chord changes that encompass past, present and future. If any of this sounds like
hyperbole, I dare you, listen to this record and tell me otherwise.
The bass is perhaps the most sensual of instruments. It is the instrument most shaped like
the female form, and this, for men, women, children and old people, is a good thing. The
female form has inspired great art since the dawn of the human species (have you seen those
erotic cave drawings?) The acoustic bass is not easy to ignore, with soothing tonal possibilities
that feel as if someone is massaging your back and neck, or whispering sweet nothings in your
ear, or beckoning you to let go of the side of the pool and venture into the deep end. The bass
can be naughty or nice, and if you listen carefully, you are likely to feel it’s reverberations in the
nether regions of your consciousness. It is there when you don’t even know it, carrying the
weight of the melody on its back, serving as the through line for a journey upriver into the deep
green forest of your imagination.
Santi Debriano has been playing the instrument since he was a teenager. Born in Panama, he
has lived in New York City for many years, serving as the leader of his own groups and as a
sideman for others. In the city’s community of jazz musicians, he is like an oak tree, with roots
that stretch into many different idioms and styles practiced by some of the most accomplished
musicians in the indisputable jazz capital of the universe.


This record had its genesis in the earliest days of the Covid-19 pandemic. In the spring of
2020, as the full dimensions of the crises first began to present itself, jazz musicians in NYC
were in a tizzy. The gig economy sustains most practitioners of jazz, and as the clubs closed
their doors or presented a limited number of shows via online streaming (sans live audiences),
the musical vitality of the city seemed sure to wither on the vine. Musicians worried about
making a living, but they also worried about losing their chops, getting rusty, and becoming
estranged from what it felt like to improvise and jam with other jazz cats.
At his home far out in Staten Island, Santi decided to harness the power of the tribal ritual
known as ‘bembe.’ The word bembé comes from Yoruba culture, in West Africa. Transposed to
the Afro-Caribbean, it has come to mean a communal celebration that involves music, food,
drink, and dance. For some, the word signifies a jam session. These pandemic jam sessions,
organized by Santi in the basement at his home, became a musical lifeline for New York area
jazz musicians who found themselves metaphorically stranded by the global health crisis.
“At first, the weekly bembés were loose and unstructured,” Santi told me, as we discussed
the origins of this album. “But as they grew in size, it enticed me to start expanding on my
arrangements and experimenting with them.”
For some time, the bassist had been wanting to compose music for a group larger than the
customary quartet or quintet. As the number of musicians gathering for the bembés grew from
four to six to nine, he began composing musical pieces for the larger group, with solos and
musical interactions between instrumentalists that stretched the boundaries of his imagination.
I was lucky enough to have attended a couple of the bembés in Santi’s Staten Island
basement. I watched as he handed out sheet music that contained the earliest configurations of

the songs on this album. As a composer, Santi rarely writes simple songs. They often contain
challenging chord changes and sudden variations in tempo. The workshop aspect of Santi’s
bembés made it possible for the musicians to explore the nuances of his remarkable


Jump ahead almost two years, to December 2021: the Pandemic had subsided enough that
musicians were able to venture out and into the studio. Many of the instrumentalists who had
for many months made the weekly trek to Santi’s basement in Staten Island, now made the trek
to Teaneck Studios, across the Hudson River in Teaneck, New Jersey. Having rehearsed this
music for such a long period, the moment of recording became a transcendent experience. This
was not just a group of highly skilled musicians playing notes, this was a group of artists paying
homage to their long months of commitment and dedication to these tunes, which they had
absorbed into their being.
“I think you can hear a certain sympathy between the players,” says Santi. “There’s a deep
level of understanding, not just in the musical theory behind the compositions, but in the
intent. I consider this to have been a spiritual process. Because of the shared physical space as
we worked out the details of this over an extended period, I think we’ve been able to achieve
something special that took us all into a deeper place [as artists].”
Having been present in the Teaneck studio for the two full days of recording this album, I can
attest that these musicians were able to achieve a remarkable level of musical and spiritual
depth in an almost off-hand way. It was their familiarity with the music, yes, but also the

understanding that these songs had been forged in a state of crises. They had come to
represent something for the musicians that superseded the notes and chords: survival.


Each composition is a revelation, beginning with Angel Heart (1), a song that Santi named
after his wife, Marilyn. “At the core of Angel Heart is a melody that’s been in my head for
maybe two or three years. I’d rewritten and rewritten it. I realize now that what it was waiting
for was a guitarist like Adrian.”
Born in Brazil and raised in Spain, Adrian Alvarádo shines on the song. As a composer and
arranger himself, he intuitively grasps the interplay between his Flamenco guitar adagios and
Santi’s African and Caribbean phrasing on the bass.
Of all the tunes on the record, Ashanti (2) is the most spiritually African in its intentions.
Santi explains: “The melody came to me almost completely intact. It just kind of rolled of my
subconsciousness onto the page. I guess it came from a conversation I had once with a fellow
from Togo, who said to me, ‘You look like you’re from Togo. What is your name?’ When I told
him, he said, ‘Of course. We have many Santis in Togo. You are named after the Ashanti tribe.’”
The bassist took this to heart and came up with a melody steeped in the ancestral vibe.
Ashanti kicks off with the drums of Robby Ameen and includes an extended bass solo by Santi.
The tune also includes solos by sax master T.K. Blue and flautist Andrea Brachfeld that kill it.
Ameen, Blue and Brachfeld are all established veterans of the New York jazz scene, with
groups and multiple albums of their own; their presence on this record is exemplary of the
virtuosic level of musicianship that has been brought to bear.

Basilar (3) is a Latin American slang term that refers to homies hanging out and bullshitting
together. The tune captures this spirit, once again, with an enticing bass solo from Santi that
leads into full-on orchestration from the group. All the instrumentalists get to add their two
cents (and more) with some soaring solos, most notably Tommy Morimoto on tenor sax and the
inimitable Brachfeld on flute, before it all culminates in a rolling cavalcade of rhythm at the
hands of Robby on drums.
The piece of music on the album most likely to leave the listener in a trance is Imaginary
Guinea (4), a gorgeous, meditative prayer in 6/8 time. This song seems to borrow,
compositionally, from one of Santi’s mentors, the late, great alto saxophonist Arthur Blythe.
The major influence for Blythe, as has been the case for all jazz composers with a spiritual bent
to their music, was John Coltrane. Santi channels both Blythe and Coltrane in the plaintive
seductions behind Imaginary Guinea, a song that draws the listener in and then takes them to
the heavens for an out-of-body-experience.
Says Santi: “Those influences you mention are there, but, thematically, the melody comes
from Haitian folklore. It comes from Voodoo. The belief that when a Haitian dies, his or her soul
leaves the body and follows a river to the ocean, where it crosses the Atlantic Ocean to a place
in Africa called Guinea. And that’s where all the souls now reside.”
It is the image of the soul sailing along the river and crossing the ocean that gives the piece
its swaying, staccato rhythm. Baritone sax man Ray Scro distinguishes himself with a resonant
solo that rises from the depths, and the entire rhythm section is on board to conjure a hypnotic,
slightly eerie mood that takes the music back to its Voodoo conceptions. The results are soul

On the other end of the spectrum, Arkestra Bembé Boogalu (5) is a tune designed to make a
listener want to rise up and shake some ass. In the recording studio, Robby Ameen and some of
the others joked about how the tune reminded them of theme music for a 1970s TV show like
Sanford & Son or The Jeffersons. The song is bouncy and effervescent, with a pulsating Latin
beat held together by Robby, overdubbed on the Cuban guiro (the tune’s secret sauce), laying
down the foundation for an infectious Afro-Caribbean gumbo. The song shows that,
compositionally speaking, Santi can swing with the best of ‘em.
Imagined Nation (6), on the other hand, is an example of the band leader’s compositional
talents at their most complex. The tune is a straight-ahead jazz number, with lines and counter
lines that revolve around Santi at his most exploratory on the bass. Imagined Nation required
more rehearsal time than any other composition on the record, starting at the bembé in Staten
Island and culminating with a series of takes in the Teaneck studio. The musicians worked out
the complex melody and tempo changes in this song for many hours, and if they were still in
the studio they would likely still be tinkering. In the best jazz tradition, the melody offers a
kaleidoscope of musical counterpoints and fresh ideas.
Perhaps the most virtuosic composition on the record is Mr. Monk and Mr. Mingus (7). The
tune was written by saxophonist Ray Scro and arranged by Santi, who contributed the Mr.
Mingus aspect of the song along with Ray’s intended tribute to Monk. As musicians, the
element that both Monk and Mingus brought to the table was their use of metric modulation
and an affinity for the flatted fifth, which comes directly from the blues. Both musicians had a
heightened philosophical sense of what Mingus put into words by saying, “Music has to have

the beauty and the ugliness.” Says Santi: “I think what he meant by that was to combine
harmony and disharmony in a pleasing way, but with some element of chaos also.”
Mr. Monk and Mr. Mingus sprinkles in some chaos, but it’s mostly all beauty, with a loose,
jaunty melody that feels like a bracing walk in the park on a Sunday afternoon. In one extended
solo on the alto sax, T.K. Blue steals the show by running the scales with playfulness, aggression
and joy.
On Spunky (8), another straight-ahead jazz composition, the horn section gets to shine. In
what Santi describes as “a mash up of funky and swinging,” T.K., Tommy Morimoto, and
trumpet player Emile Turner all step forward to musically shake hands. Emile, who hails
originally from New Orleans, brings some much appreciated ‘Nawlins flavor on an instrument
that riverfront metropolis made famous a long time ago.
The record concludes with the only tune contributed by an outside source, the late, great
marimba player Bobby Hutcherson, who wrote Till Then (9) not long before his death in 2016.
As arranged and reconceived by Santi, what stands out on this recording is the work of pianist
Mamiko Watanabe.
Throughout the studio session in Teaneck, the other musicians were consistently surprised
and dazzled by Mamiko. Born and raised in Japan, her work was less well known to many, but
her facility on the piano was a godsend. As Santi put it: “She’s a perfect piano player. She’s got
a great sense of rhythm, and her lines are all very well thought out. She has a modern sense of
harmony that is reminiscent of McCoy Tyner, and that’s saying a lot.”
On Till Then, Santi, on the spur of the moment, asked Mamiko to provide an opening. She
asked, “What are you looking for?” Using his hands to signify descending scales, or as he put it,

“water tumbling down a waterfall,” Santi showed Mamiko what he had in mind. “It’s really a
testament to her artistry,” he says. “She watched my hands. I could see that she was
harmonizing with my movements. And that’s exactly what she played. She played the shape
that I had put in the air in front of her. And it’s perfect.”
The interchange that took place between the band leader and pianist was a form of musical
communication that Santi prefers. It’s called “conduction,” a form of conducting invented by
trumpeter Butch Morris in the 1970s. Conduction is a method for shaping improvisations in
large ensembles by using visual cues. Rather than using a baton in the form of a metronome,
the conductor uses his or her hands to create shapes that are then interpreted musically by the
“Many musicians are visual learners,” says Santi. “With conduction, what we’re doing is
creating shapes that become the basis for improvisation.”
Along with her spontaneous intro on Till Then, Mamiko contributes a classic piano solo that
would be mind-blowing were it not typical of her melodic contributions throughout the record.


The music on this record could not have happened in this way were it not for the Great
Pandemic of 1920-21. Throughout those dark days, these musicians studiously gathered and
explored the revivifying possibilities of this music, and then headed into a studio to memorialize
what had been, for them, a life altering experience. I feel blessed to have witnessed aspects of
this miraculous artistic process through its period of rehearsal in Staten Island to its ultimate
fruition in New Jersey. This is as good as music gets, a celebration of life that is a sterling
representation of modern jazz as it exists in the present tense.


released November 18, 2022

Musician and Credits

Santi Debriano - Bass, Compositions, Arrangement
Andrea Brachfeld - Flute
TK Blue - Alto Saxophone
Tommy Morimoto - Tenor saxophone
Ray Scro - Baritone saxophone
Emile Turner - Trumpet
Adrian Alvarado - Guitar
Mamiko Watanabe - Piano
Robby Ameen - Drums

Executive producer - Simon Belelty
Produced by Santi Debriano and Stuart Deutsch

Recorded at Teaneck Sound Studio by Dave Kowalski.
Mastering by Andreas Meyer.


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Jojo Records New York, New York

Jazz with a sense of fidelity to the traditions of the past, while always looking forward towards new styles and approaches.
This is the philosophy of Jojo Records.

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