Pedrito Martinez is no stranger to the Capital Region. He brought his group with pianist Ariacne Trujillo, Percussionist Jhair Sala, and bassist Alvaro Benevides to Mountain Jam, SPAC Jazz Fest, and Albany Riverfront Jazz Fest all within the past year. Each performance was spectacular, but the performance at A Place For Jazz on Friday was a surprising treat. Trujillo complemented Martinez again on this date and John Benitez played electric and upright basses. Rather than a second percussionist, Martinez opted instead for a trumpeter, Mike Rodriguez.
This necessarily gave Martinez more responsibility for the use of percussive space, and he filled it with charm. He played two congas—a segundo, and a tumbador—and also sat on a cajon, played a snare drum with bare hands and had a bell that he played with a foot pedal. This setup is just another way that Martinez eliminates cultural boundaries, moving in and out of traditional grooves and timbres. Martinez and Trujillo’s playing is always mutually inspiring, and reaches incredible heights, but the addition of Benitez to the rhythm section created a powerful, positive force. Benitez could astound the crowd with his solo chops as he spun out endless ideas while maintaining a cool bounce. He could also hang back harder than anyone and sync in with Martinez’s congas, slamming the butt of his hand into the lowest bass string and dragging it down the fretboard.
Duke Ellington’s “Caravan” opened the second set, which was fitting. “Tonight is a very spiritual night for me because my mom and my dad and my daughter are all here,” Martinez said after the first tune. It’s hard to imagine Martinez ever playing without calling down the Yoruba spirit of Eshu to preside over the ceremony. The spirituality comes through loud and clear in this music, as the members play with such extreme conviction. Martinez is never just playing the drums, and he is never just filling space. His intuition allows him to control space. His solos breathe. His ideas may be intense, with rolls that seem to go on forever, his bare hands moving so close and fast to the drums that you only see a blur. And then he waits and hears something else, plays it and brings it to fruition. He is never at a loss for ideas, and neither are any of his bandmates.
Benitez got the crowd clapping a kind of rhumba toward the end of the night, which eventually worked its way into one of the tunes from Martinez’s only record as a bandleader, Live At Guantanamera. This group’s performance made an excellent capstone to the 2012 season at A Place For Jazz, with one of their best turnouts ever. The audience also showed tremendous support for relief efforts downstate by donating to Jazz Foundation of America, which plans to use the money to help jazz musicians who have missed gigs and otherwise been negatively affected by Hurricane Sandy.