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The Pedrito Martinez Group: Habana Dreams

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The Pedrito Martinez Group - Habana Dreams

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).

Label: Motéma
Release date: June 2015
Running time: 46:56
Website: pedritomartinezmusic.com
Buy album: amazon

Based in Milton, Ontario, Canada, Raul is a poet, musician and an accomplished critic whose profound analysis is reinforced by his deep understanding of music, technically as well as historically.

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Featured Albums

Adrien Brandeis: Siempre Más Allá

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Roberto Jr. Vizcaino, Adrien Brandeis, Roberto Vizcaino Guillot - Photo Nayeli Mejia
Roberto Vizcaíno Jr., Adrien Brandeis, Roberto Vizcaíno Guillot - Photo: Nayeli Mejia.

Listening to the music of Siempre Más Allá, it certainly seems that the young French pianist, Adrien Brandeis has strengthened the belief that he is a proverbial citizen of the Afro-Caribbean universe. To be clear Mr Brandeis still loves all music and swings as hard as any pianist who loves Black American Music – that is, music that you can sing and dance to. But also continues to be beguiled by the rolling thunder of Afro-Caribbean music. The wild call of the rhythms and the joie de vivre of the questing melodies and harmonies not only appeal to his ear, but also speak to him in the hidden parts of his heart.

By his own admission Siempre Más Allá took root during three tours to Mexico undertaken under the aegis of the Fédération des Alliances Françaises du Mexique. The virtually all-Afro-Cuban repertoire of the album radiates charm at every turn. These disarmingly natural and eloquent performances bring out the music’s inherent drama and penchant for tumbao with a deft touch while indulging Brandeis’ lyrical instincts to the full. Meticulously balanced, the four quartet pieces, the trio and duo pieces feel as if they are chamber works. Brandeis’ astonishingly insightful playing is musically captivating and technically blemishless. Each phrase rings so completely true that one can’t imagine the music played any other way.

Adrien Brandeis: Siempre Más Allá
Adrien Brandeis: Siempre Más Allá

The album features Mr Brandeis and a group of very accomplished musicians. These include the celebrated Cuban percussionist Roberto Vizcaíno Guillot [on two tracks] and his son Roberto Vizcaíno Jr., Mexican drummer José Loria Triay make up the wall of percussion. The Brasilian bassist Giliard Lopes brings his distinctive veritas to the whole rhythm section. The big surprise here is, perhaps, the presence of the great Cuban Horacio “El Negro” Hernández sitting in the drum chair on La buena vibra.

Siempre Más Allá is an affirmation of Brandeis’ enduring love and natural affinity for Latin music. Not surprisingly the music seems to echo the famous Latin American phrase: “¡Que rico bailo yo!” [which, in English, exclaims: “How well I dance!”]. This is no hyperbole as the music – in its pulses and rhythms show as Brandeis traverses the rhythmic topography of the Caribbean and Latin America. Along the way Brandeis plunged into the world of changüí, the chacarera, Brasilian gaucho music and the ancient melodic thunder of bàtá drums.

From the get-go listeners will find themselves immersed in quite another world of rippling percussive grooves. The track Ek Bakam, for instance, conjures the intricate architecture; the line and flow of an epic Mayan civilisation located in the Yucatan. Narratives from the Latin world abound – often paying homage to famous traditional musicians. Pancho’s Power is one such chart inspired by the vivid world of the legendary trio Los Panchos. Brandeis gives his percussion section a lot of space when he puts the spotlight on them on Tierra de Oportunidades – a wistful memory of the pianist’s three tours to Mexico, which is also incidentally the popular provincial slogan of the Mexican state of Guanajuato. On Huachi-Huachi Brandeis digs deep into the epicurean delights of the only Latin country in North America with this song in praise of a kind of gourmet Mexican fish: the huachinango.

Brandeis then celebrates his association with percussion colourist Roberto Vizcaíno Jr. with the extraordinary music of Vizcaíno Blues, a piece unique with its exploratory chromaticisms and elegant sonorities that beautifully capture the eloquence of the percussionist in whose praise the music is written. Mindful of the fact that Vizcaíno is Cuban but makes his home in Mexico, Brandeis shapes the rhythmic and harmonic palette of the piece accordingly. On La Buena Vibra Brandeis delivers astonishing pianistic fireworks in the piece’s melodic and harmonic lines, played at a frenetic pace, to mirror the style of its dedicatee, Michel Camilo. The pianist demonstrates an authentic home-grown grasp of Cuban music as he reimages Voy a Apagar la Luz, by the legendary and late-singer Armando Manzanero, here adapted as a wistful solo piano work. Meanwhile on the dizzying ride of Humpty Dumpty the pianist pays homage to another idol: Chick Corea, by revisiting the sparkling composition of the recently-deceased piano maestro.

It is hard not to be mesmerised by this spirited and finely nuanced music artfully crafted in an album by Adrien Brandeis, a pianist who is about to take the world by storm with a recording that is going to be one of the finest by any musician located outside the Latin American sub-continent.

Deo gratis…

Tracks – 1: Huachi Huachi; 2: Alegría; 3: Pancho’s Power; 4: Ek balam; 5: Un peu d’espoir; 6: Vizcaíno’s Blues; 7: Tierra de oportunidades; 8: Humpty Dumpty; 9: La buena vibra; 10: Voy a apagar la luz

Musicians – Adrien Brandeis: piano; Giliard Lopes: contrabass; José Loria Triay: drums; Roberto Vizcaíno Jr: congas and bàtá drums. Featuring Roberto Vizcaíno Guillot: percussion [1, 6]; Horacio “El Negro” Hernández: drums [9]

Released – 2022
Label – Mantodea Music Productions
Runtime – 58:25

YouTube Video – Adrien Brandeis – Siempre más allá (EPK)

YouTube Audio – Adrien Brandeis – Vizcaíno’s Blues

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