If you ever find yourself in New York City on a Tuesday, Wednesday, or Thursday, take a walk down 8th Ave from Columbus Circle, and stop in to Guantanamera, a Cuban restaurant featuring one of the baddest bands in New York, The Pedrito Martinez Group.
Pedrito is one of the world’s pre-eminent congueros and batá drummers. Born in Havana, Cuba, he came first to Canada with Jane Bunnett, and after winning first place in the Thelonious Monk International Jazz Competition in 2000, he continued to New York, where he has performed in the bands of Arturo O’Farrill, Stefon Harris, Sting, and many others, including Yerba Buena (a band which also featured former U of M faculty member, Terreon Gully).
The four-piece band is a living, breathing unit. Rarely have I heard a band with such incredibly rhythmic complexity and synchronicity, that still makes you want to dance, no matter how complex the rhythm gets. On top of that, they sing in perfect four-part harmony while they play.
The band features fellow Cuban Ariacne Trujilo on piano, Venezuelan bassist Alvaro Benavides, and Peruvian percussionist Jhair Sala, who, among other things, plays bongo, cajon, guiro, and holds it all together on the bell. Ariacne plays the most unbelievable piano tumbaos, and the band will play long, disorienting breaks over top, before all lining up in perfect unison.
No matter what, the pocket is always incredibly deep, and even when they’ve got you feeling like you have no idea where the beat is, you’re still grooving right through it.
Their eponymous debut studio album, released in October of last year, features several high profile guests, including Wynton Marsalis, John Scofield, and Steve Gadd. The album gives the listener a small glimpse of what it is like to experience the band live, which is an experience I hope all Winnipeg fans of jazz and Afro-Cuban music will get to have. The band maintains an increasingly busy touring schedule, which makes their New York appearances less and less frequent. Let’s hope a stop in Winnipeg is on the itinerary.