Editor’s Pick · Album of the Month ·
It is true that when Pedrito Martinez puts it out there that a new album is coming, half the excitement of the chase is never knowing what the world’s most exhilarating percussionist-vocalist of his generation is going to serve up. Then the album is released and it is, of course, it is everything that you never expected it to be! The reason is not easy to understand although it is easy to be sucked into his musical vortex. Pedro Martinez is a Santeria priest and like the best of his kind, he is a wizard in the best sense of the term. The mesmerising nature of his music has everything to do with Yoruba worship, but it is a highly purified version of that veneration. Legend has it that he learned from the best, one of whom, the eminence grise of Santeria priests, a keeper of the flame – Ogduardo Díaz Anaya (better known as Román Díaz) – appears on ‘Recuerdos’ and ‘Encantamiento Yoruba’.
The only thing you can be sure that Pedrito Martinez will bring to each of his performances – live or in the studio – is his Yoruba background. This is what sets his music on fire. Martinez is priest of profound devotion to his deities; it’s what informs his music – whether sacred or secular, and it is what makes the music exceedingly intoxicating. With his alter-ego, Jhair Sala, doubling the serving of the intoxicant Martinez can do no wrong. It seems almost too trite to say, or even suggest that Pedrito Martinez and Jhair Sala together can do wrong. They have proved it on both their Motéma releases. But on Habana Dreams Pedrito Martinez leads the duo, together with Edgar Pantoja-Aleman (keyboards) and Alvaro Benavides (bass) into a rarefied realm. It is from there that this extraordinary music comes tumbling down.
The creation of this sound has first penetrated the guts of the musicians who have created it. It is from there that it is shot out by Martinez, produced in such a manner that it’s almost like coming from inside him. This might suggest that we’re talking of spirited rhythm here, but that’s not all. This music – and if you fast forward to ‘Habana Dreams’ is a lyric-dramatic work that tells a story of Martinez’s beloved Cuba in a winning, openly poetic and emotional manner, with slow-fast-slow movements at the heart of the piece. Martinez’s playing here is technically adroit and he is audibly tuned into the Afro-Cuban idiom. This is precisely the quality that comes through over the course of the nine pieces, coupled, of course, by Pedro Martinez’s natural way of coaxing out the music’s melodic content, and his phenomenal command of the music’s bravura demands, which he meets with such a well-chosen kaleidoscope of colour and a wondrous variety of touch.
This is a riveting disc not the least because of the constellation of stars, there to interpret some of the most stylish and visceral Afro-Cuban music that you could hope to hear on record. Wynton Marsalis repays the love that Cuba showed him not long ago, when he took the Jazz at Lincoln Orchestra to Havana and recorded a tremendous disc. The voice of Telmary Díaz sets ‘Mi Tempestad’ aflame. The inimitable Rubén Blades suffuses ‘Compa Galletano’ and ‘Antadilla’. But it is the articulation and unyielding dynamic of Román Díaz on congas, bàtá and vocals who brings deification to this music much to the delight of Pedrito Martinez, who captains the music-filled ship into the stratosphere.
Track List: Mi Tempestad; Compa Galletano; Dios Mio; Recuerdos; Encantamiento Yoruba; Tributo a Santiago de Cuba; Antadilla; Tuve Una Revelación; Habana Dreams.
Personnel: Pedrito Martinez: congas, bàtá, lead vocals; Jhair Sala: percussion, vocals; Edgar Pantoja-Aleman: keyboards, vocals; Alvaro Benavides: bass, vocals; Wynton Marsalis: trumpet (1, 7); Telmary Díaz: jazz poetry (1); Rubén Blades: vocals (2, 7); December Bueno: vocals (3); Ogduardo Díaz Anaya (Roman Díaz): congas (4), vocals, bàtá (5); Antonio Martínez Campos: quinto (4); Mario Martínez Campos: conga (4); Adrián Lazaro Martinez: claves (4); Clemente Medina: bàtá (5); Angélique Kidjo: vocals (6); Juan West: guitar (7); Issac Delgado: vocals (9).