Review and photographs by J Hunter
Additional photograph by Rudy Lu
It’s amazing how substituting one word for another can drastically change the meaning of a phrase. For example, if you change “Pedrito Martinez Group” to “Pedrito Martinez Quartet,” you get a completely different musical experience than the one people got earlier this year at Freihofer’s Saratoga Jazz Festival, Mountain Jam and (briefly) the Albany Riverfront Jazz Festival.
While PMG is the groove-based, hip-hop-influenced unit Pedrito Martinez rolls out three nights a week at the midtown-NYC restaurant Guantanamera, the Pedrito Martinez Quartet has a more traditional Afro-Cuban sound that has periodically graced the stage at Dizzy’s Club Coca Cola, the celebrated jazz venue that’s part of Wynton Marsalis’ Jazz @ Lincoln Center empire. This format allows the Cuban-born conguero – and his sensational keyboardist Ariacne Trujillo – to return to the sounds of their native Havana. For his part, Martinez explained that all his musical knowledge was learned on the street, not in a school. “My music is all about folklore,” he told us.
Drummer-bandleader Michael Benedict leads Bopitude – featuring baritone saxophonist Gary Smulyan, trumpeter Chris Pasin, tenor saxophonist Brian Patneaude, pianist Bruce Barth and bassist Mike Lawrence – through Bobby Timmons’ classic “Moanin'” during their recent concert at the First Unitarian Society of Schenectady’s Whisperdome.
And at 7:30pm on Saturday (November 10), an expanded, 16-piece, big band variation of Bopitude – featuring special guest saxophonist Ralph Lalama and pianist Bruce Barth – plays the music of Buddy Rich, Woody Herman, Bill Holman and Gary McFarland in concert at the Greenville High School Auditorium in Greenville. Tix are $15 and can be reserved by phoning 518.966.5070.
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.)
The Pedrito Martinez Band performing last week at the Albany Riverfront Jazz Fest (photo by Stanley Johnson)
Founded back in 1987, A Place for Jazz isn’t really a “place” at all, but rather a group of devoted jazz fans – a non-profit, all-volunteer organization dedicated to presenting the best in jazz through concerts, public workshops, school clinics, a website and general support of jazz and its musicians.
Having said that, however, A Place for Jazz’s concert series kicks off its 2012 season on Friday (September 14), and once again the concerts will be held at the First Unitarian Society of Schenectady’s Whisperdome, which is truly one of Nippertown’s hidden treasures. It’s an intimate listening room with great acoustics, and if you haven’t visited there yet, you should most definitely make an effort to attend one of this season’s concerts just to experience some music in the venue.
Truth to tell, holding your drop party at A Place For Jazz is a pretty gutsy move. The crowds that attend the annual series contain some of the best-educated jazz fans in the region, and you have the late Butch Conn – and all who those who maintain his legacy – to thank for that. In short, APFJ-goers know the real thing when they see it… and have limited patience for anything less. So even though Sensemaya is “from the neighborhood,” pianist Dave Gleason’s fuel-injected octet would have to swat any pre-show butterflies and just come strong, all night long. They did that, and then some.
“You guys are really amazing,” Kenny Barron enthused, grinning out at the full house that had been enthralled with Barron’s trio for two shining sets. “One of the best audiences in the world!” I can’t speak for the world, but it was certainly one of the biggest crowds A Place For Jazz has ever had: Staffers had to rush out folding chairs to accommodate the rain-drenched audience that kept filing into the Whisperdome in Schenectady well after the 8pm start time. And their enthusiasm for the star of the night was palpable before Barron even played a note.
A Place For Jazz kicked off the 2011 season with the Terell Stafford – Dick Oatts Quintet, among the best bands of its kind on the scene right now. A solid NYC group, they play original arrangements of classic standards like Cole Porter’s “I Love You,” and tasty originals like the gumbo-infused “6/20/09 Express.”
The concerts are hosted in the First Unitarian Society’s Whisperdome in Schenectady which proved to be an especially good place to listen to Dick Oatts’ original “JCO Farewell.” The piece is a tribute to his late father, and it sounds somewhat like the introduction to John Coltrane’s “Acknowledgement” from the classic album “A Love Supreme,” except that it never breaks into a true groove.
Bassist David Wong began the tune with an extended introduction that was wise and contemplative. Wong’s tone and feel were both effortless, and he wasn’t afraid to breathe and leave himself space in between ideas. His head hung over his bass as his lines flowed out into the audience, and as soon as he looked up, the whole group entered with an ostinato section where the drummer rolled around the kit with mallets, and the horns gingerly recited the melody. As the horn melody finished, Wong continued with a bass solo that sat on top of the heavenly clouds laid by the piano and the bursts of thunder from the toms.
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