Cuban Musicians Alfredo Rodriguez and Pedrito Martinez to liven up the halls of the Vermont Jazz Center on Saturday, May 18th at 8:00 PM
On Saturday May 18th, the Vermont Jazz Center will present a duo concert featuring two of Cuba’s foremost musical performers: pianist Alfredo Rodriguez and percussionist Pedrito Martinez. Their charismatic presence, a brand new album and an on-going tour of about fifty international gigs has generated tremendous excitement and expanded their circle to include listeners around the globe. In the coming months they will be touring Canada, Italy, Spain, France, Turkey, Sweden, Switzerland, and the US, including Brattleboro, Vermont. In the promo for their new release, Duologue, percussionist Martinez states that “what makes this duo completely different is that I came from the folkloric side and Alfredo came from the classical side.” The New York Times adds that these “masters of Afro-Cuban rhythm who both hail from Havana … learned their craft in different settings: Rodriguez at clubs and solares – the housing units where much of Cuba’s African musical inheritance is passed down – and Martinez at various conservatories in the city.” Downbeat reviewer Catalina Maria Johnson hailed their fusion by calling it a “Cuban firestorm, a mesmerizing duet of superstars from the Cuban jazz scene.” In her piece reviewing their concert at New York’s Winter Jazz Fest, she reveled at how the duo “traded and juxtaposed riffs, laughing and delighting themselves and concertgoers in the deliciousness of their musical conversation.”
The music created by Rodriguez and Martinez is energetic yet deep, enhanced and informed by the complex abundance of rhythmical material gleaned from their native Cuba. Their set list draws from spiritual and ancestral sources as well as from unexpected popular-music choices. For example, their composition “Africa” combines Yoruba chants with an Afro-beat. Also in their repertoire are Cuban folk songs, a rumba-clave version of the pop hit “Thriller” (made famous by Michael Jackson) and a clever arrangement of the Mario Brothers video game theme song. In a feature in Downbeat Magazine, Rodriguez elaborated on the significance of their choice of material by saying that “everything we do in life is reflected in our music. We try to find a balance that talks about unity, about breaking those barriers and borders that we put into life nowadays.” Martinez added “We are very focused on having the record show who we are and where we came from. At the same time, we wanted people to feel that we live in the United States. We have absorbed the music of a lot of cultures and incorporated them into the way we play. So the sound of the record is global, not just local.”
The duo format suits Rodriguez and Martinez perfectly. It provides a structure where they are beholden only to themselves for ideas and direction. The duo set-up provides plenty of room for creative freedom and encourages engaging interplay. It is a small miracle that these two musicians found each other and took the time to explore the possibilities of playing as a duo; they are like-minded soul-mates capable of playing over extremely challenging, rhythmically-oriented material. But they approach this material as if they were two athletes cajoling each other in a friendly sprint through the park. Their music is muscular, but it also has tons of heart and vulnerability.
On his website, pianist Rodriguez confesses the he always wanted to be a drummer. “So I love playing with great drummers and Pedrito is the best example when it comes to Cuban percussion. It really touches my heart.” When they play as a duo Rodriguez performs on acoustic piano, sometimes adding an electric keyboard bass to round out the lower part of the sonic spectrum. At the Vermont Jazz Center concert, percussionist Martinez will be playing five congas, cajon (a percussive box that doubles as a chair), snare drum, cymbals and three ceremonial Batá drums. Both musicians are also fine vocalists – their singing adds a floating layer of beauty and complexity to their percussive-heavy presentation.
Martinez learned to play the batás, two-headed hour-glass shaped drums, while working as an accompanist for shamans in Santeria ceremonies in Cuba. The complex batá rhythms were traditionally used to honor the Orishas (African deities of the Yoruba tradition) in Afro-Cuban culture. The batá drums’ early function was religious and the rhythms that were played on them formed an exclusive language. These rhythms are now used more broadly but always with the deepest respect and sense of purpose. According to the Times, “Mr. Martinez became a Santeria priest in 2010 and maintains a small shrine to Santeria deities in his home. He feels that the religion is largely misunderstood, and he hopes to avoid an overemphasis of his spiritual side in any discussion of his music.” Martinez elaborated by saying that “To me, religion was a way to learn the music, because getting into a Cuban music school required connections” and he did not have the right kind, he said. “But people don’t see that – they’re fascinated, they love the mysticism. It’s important to me that people understand I’m a musician, not just a priest.”’
Percussionist Pedro Pablo “Pedrito” Martinez was born in Havana, Cuba in 1973. Having settled in New York City in the fall of 1998, by 2000 he had been awarded the Thelonius Monk Award for Afro-Latin Hand Percussion and was featured in the documentary film Calle 54. Martinez has recorded or performed with Wynton Marsalis, Paul Simon, Paquito D’Rivera, Bruce Springsteen, and Sting and has contributed, as a percussionist and vocalist, to over 50 albums. He was also a founding member of the highly successful Afro-Cuban/Afro-Beat band Yerba Buena, with which he recorded two albums and toured the world. Martinez’s career as a leader began in 2005 with the formation in NYC of The Pedrito Martinez Group (PMG). The group’s Grammy-nominated first album was released in October of 2013 and was chosen among NPR’s Favorite Albums of 2013 and The Boston Globe Critics Top Ten Albums of 2013. Habana Dreams, PMG’s second album, was released in June 2016. Guests included Ruben Blades, Isaac Delgado, Wynton Marsalis, Descemer Bueno, Roman Diaz, Angelique Kidjo, and Telmary Diaz. Accolades for Habana Dreams include #1 Latin Jazz Album in NPR’s Jazz Critics Top Jazz Albums for 2016.
Pianist Alfredo Rodriguez comes from a musical family. As a very young man, he played in his father’s band and studied classical piano at three leading conservatories in Havana. In 2006, he was selected as one of the twelve pianists from around the world to perform at the Montreux Jazz Festival where music producer/arranger/composer Quincy Jones took notice and offered him work. In 2009, Rodriguez, while on tour with his father in Mexico, decided to request political asylum at the US border crossing of Nuevo Laredo. He was eventually granted asylum thanks in great part to the support of his mentor, Quincy Jones. After achieving his goal, Rodriguez launched his career in music in the United States to great success. He has performed at numerous esteemed jazz clubs and festivals throughout the world, sharing the stage with jazz artists Wayne Shorter, Herbie Hancock, Patti Austin, James Ingram, McCoy Tyner, Esperanza Spalding, Richard Bona, and Lionel Loueke. One of Rodriguez’s best-known compositions is a collaboration with Quincy Jones, the anthem “Better City, Better Life,” which was selected as the official theme song of the Shanghai World Expo 2010. In 2015, Rodriguez received his first Grammy nomination for best arrangement, instrumental for “Guantanamera” at the 57th Grammy Awards. He has recorded four albums as a leader and one as co-leader with Pedrito Martinez.
In a Downbeat feature, Rodriguez discussed his belief that the accumulation of one’s life experiences and the evolution of spirit comes across in the sounds that are created when improvising musicians commit to a performance: “When we go onstage, we’re playing our lives, [expressing] the way we grew up, the way we think. All the positive and negative things that happen in our life, we transmit into musical sounds. So, it’s very important for me and Pedro to find a brotherhood, musically and non-musically, so that we can keep building that relationship, so the music will be stronger.” The combined life-experiences of Rodriguez and Martinez are rich and fruitful – they are the fare that we listeners will savor as they perform at the Vermont Jazz Center.
The VJC is honored to present the Alfredo Rodriguez Duo featuring Pedrito Martinez on Saturday, May 18th at 8:00 PM. This concert will likely sell out, so be sure to purchase tickets in advance. The VJC thanks this concert’s sponsors: Julian Gerstin and Carlene Raper. We are extremely grateful for Julian (VJC Board President) and Carlene’s generous dedication to and participation in all aspects of our organization’s well-being. The VJC is also thankful for the ongoing support of Holiday Inn Express Suites of Brattleboro. VJC publicity is underwritten by the Brattleboro Reformer, WVPR, WVEW and WFCR.
Tickets for Alfredo Rodriguez Duo with Pedrito Martinez at the Vermont Jazz Center are $20+ general admission, $15 for students with I.D. (contact VJC about educational discounts); available online at www.vtjazz.org, by email at email@example.com, and in person at In the Moment Records in Brattleboro. Tickets can also be reserved by calling the Vermont Jazz Center ticket line, 802-254-9088, ext. 1. Handicapped access is available by calling the VJC at 802 254 9088.
Duologue Promo: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1Dl5drpDWK4
Performance at Paste Studios in NYC: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d8Kgfaq8_dA&t=114s
Music Video for Rodriguez and Martinez Composition, Africa:
Pedrito Martinez Quartet in Buenos Aires: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SJ-edrEdgZs
Pedrito Tiny Desk Concert: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GP3jS_gFs-g
Alfredo Rodriguez Trio: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4i7hmnrQ2aA
Alfredo Tiny Desk Concert: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qOxCOMtJbC8
Press Release – Please give author’s credit to Eugene Uman, Vermont Jazz Center, 802 254 9088, firstname.lastname@example.org
Who: Alfredo Rodriguez (piano), Pedrito Martinez (percussion)
What: Jazz-influenced Cuban music including folk songs, original soundscapes, and rousing grooves.
When: Saturday, May 18th, 2019 at 8:00 PM
Where: The Vermont Jazz Center, 72 Cotton Mill Hill, #222, Brattleboro, VT 05301