October 23rd, 2015
It’s generally a reliable sign that something exceptional is going on when the practitioner of a somewhat non-mainstream style of music (singing in Spanish to boot) begins to attract international attention with a weekly gig at a modest-sized New York City restaurant.
Such is the case with the extraordinary Pedrito Martinez Group, whose legendary residency at Manhattan’s Guantanamera Restaurant has earned the group and its leader wide-eyed praise from titans of rock, jazz, and Latin music alike. Martinez can count among his fans Eric Clapton, Derek Trucks, Rubén Blades, Steve Winwood, Taj Mahal, John Scofield, Steve Gadd, Paquito D’Rivera, and Joe Lovano, to name but a few. Wynton Marsalis himself puts it simply: “Pedrito is a genius.”
Since relocating to New York in 2000, the Cuban-born Martinez has extended and refined his consummate mastery of a wide variety of popular Latin music forms anchored with a deep mastery of Afro-Cuban folkloric rhythms. His exceptionally strong tenor voice and dizzying skills on the congas are stretched by an infectious energy and unmistakable joy in the making of music, and he has found the perfect vehicle for his talents with his amazing quartet, which includes Álvaro Benavides providing elastic counterpoint and locked-in groove on electric bass, Jhair Sala (who has played with Martinez since the age of 10) on vocals and percussion, and the band’s newest member, the exceptional pianist Edgar Pantoja-Aleman. The band creates a very big sound, able to seemingly ratchet up to the intensity and drive of a full salsa orchestra, and yet still turn on a dime with the improvisatory flexibility of a small jazz group.