JAZZ 2K EXTRA: Pedrito Martinez Group’s “Live at Guantanamera”

November 8th, 2012, 1:00 pm by Greg

Review by J Hunter

Pedrito Martinez Group (featuring Ariacne Trujillo)
Live at Guantanamera
(Pedrito Martinez/Rolling Fork Music)

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There are multiple reasons why it’s a good thing A Place For Jazz is closing its 2012 schedule on Friday (November 9) with a performance by New York City’s own Pedrito Martinez Group – not the least of which is that the Cuban conguero’s show at Albany Riverfront Jazz Festival in September was painfully shortened by a nasty thunderstorm that closed down the rest of the fest. (Note to APFJ: Any way you’d consider booking Riverfront rain-out casualty Delfeayo Marsalis next year? Just a thought…)

If your plans were to head over to Whisperdome in Schenectady (or if you’re willing to circular-file whatever plans you did have), wear comfortable shoes and layers you can lose in a hurry, because a Martinez Group gig ain’t nuthin’ but a dance party. We saw that (briefly) at Riverfront, and twice in two years at the Freihofer Jazz Festival’s Gazebo stage. (Throw in an appearance at Mountain Jam earlier this year, and Martinez could be named an honorary member of the Greater Nippertown music community.)

And if you were at any of those shows, or just want to check PMG out Friday night, Live at Guantanamera is a perfect snapshot of the fiesta Martinez and his cohorts hold three nights a week at a Cuban restaurant in Midtown NYC. Don’t be fooled by the fact that there are only five tracks on the disc: All five are long-form pieces that amply showcase the combination of razor-sharp talent and bubbling chemistry that make the Martinez Group one of the most interesting acts you’ll ever take in.

Martinez does not stand on ceremony. “Okay, Guantanamera! One more time,” he urges, as bassist Alvaro Benavides plays the simple foundation figure that launches the opening medley “Concieta/Ay Amor.” As Martinez takes to his congas, keyboardist Ariacne Trujillo quickly starts embroidering around Benavides’ figure and the rest of the group adds their voices to the mix, either in song or spoken asides. The piece goes from engaging to galvanizing as all four players hit the chorus’ harmony right on the button. Horns? Who needs them? We’ve got an eight-armed rhythm section whose voices add all the musical colors of the rainbow!

Trujillo gets almost-co-lead billing on Guantanamera, which makes sense, because she’s as much of a focal point as Martinez. Her percussive playing is reminiscent of Tania Maria back in her heyday, but as we see on Silvio Rodriguez’s “Quien Fuera” and Martinez’s sultry “Memorias,” Trujillo has a massive vocal range Maria never had. Trujillo also possesses a more traditional jazz base than Maria: She sub-references George Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue” during the in-the-clear bridge between “Concieto” and “Ay Amor,” and works Cole Porter’s “Night and Day” into her vocal on “Memorias.”

Jhair Sala alternates between various percussion instruments while giving PMG a Latin hip-hop glaze: Many of his vocal offerings have the feel of a downtown MC working to motivate both Martinez and the crowd. His bongo work adds muscle to Martinez’s already-rippling congas, and he actually makes you want to yell “More Cowbell,” during the rampaging closer “Que Palo.” Benavides has to be the anchor in order for his leader to drop his boatload of percussive knowledge, but the bassist displays his own fine solo chops in the last section of “Memorias.”

Like I said: The Pedrito Martinez Group ain’t nuthin’ but a dance party, and Live at Guantanamera is one of the best party discs of 2012. But if you can’t make it down to Manhattan (or want to wait until the clean-up from Sandy is done), they’ll be bringing the party upstate this Friday night.

The Pedrito Martinez Group will close this year’s season of A Place For Jazz at 7:30pm on Friday (November 9) at the First Unitarian Society of Schenectady’s Whisperdome. Tickets are $15; students $7; and kids get in free if they bring an adult.