The Pedrito Martinez Group (Motéma Music)

Pedrito Martinez Group

Released October 8, 2013

Grammy Nominee for Best Latin Jazz Album 2015




In 2006, Guantanamera, an unprepossessing Cuban restaurant in Midtown Manhattan, gave the percussionist, singer and dancer Pedrito Martinez and his closest collaborators a multiple-nights-per-week residency. In 2010, the quartet now called The Pedrito Martinez Group came together. The musicians are all exceptional, sought after by the likes of Paul Simon, Wynton Marsalis, Paquito d’Rivera and Sting. The band is internationally acclaimed, routinely wins over audiences of thousands at festivals worldwide, and has made the restaurant a destination for music aficionados-critics, legends such as Eric Clapton and Quincy Jones, and serious listeners alike. So, why, one might ask, does the Group continue to play the Guantanamera gig? Because, aside from their sense of indebtedness to the establishment that gave them their start, they know the residency provides a unique opportunity: a place not only to experience the joy of playing together, but also to hone their collective craft, before an audience, for hours on end.

Three years into the Group’s existence, at a major breakthrough time for the band-_The New Yorker_’s pop music critic Sasha Frere-Jones recently proclaimed, ‘If anyone can move Afro-Cuban music into greater visibility it’s Martínez’- Motéma Music will release The Pedrito Martinez Group, the quartet’s debut album, on October 8. The recording gives listeners everywhere a chance to hear this singularly thrilling band at the height of their seamless, explosive interplay.

One thing that’s rare about The Pedrito Martinez Group is that they wow experts and non-experts in equal measure. Kevin Moore, the salsa authority, says in the liner notes, ‘PMG isn’t shy about revealing its sources ‘” with episodic forays into guaguancó, timba, R&B, gospel, blues, flamenco, and various subgenres of jazz, European classical, and Afro-Cuban folkloric music. The fact that that they play each of these with authority and authenticity is dazzling ‘” even dumbfounding ‘” but that’s not the real story here‘¦. This isn’t timba, or jazz, or funk, or rumba, or folkloric music. It’s a whole new way of playing ‘” one that produces profoundly different results with each performance. In this sense, it’s like jazz improvisation, but it’s not only the notes and rhythms that are being improvised ‘” the very form of the music is endlessly malleable.’ Casual listeners, who happen upon the group at Bonnaroo, or as diners at Guantanamera- indeed, even non-music-lovers-find themselves with mouths agape, stunned by a sheer virtuosity that’s apparent no matter how much you know about music. For these converts, it’s like tuning into the Olympics and being bowled over, unsuspectingly, by a record-breaking gymnast.

Produced by Steve Gadd and Martinez, The Pedrito Martinez Group features guest appearances by collaborators and admirers including Wynton Marsalis (trumpet on ‘Lengua de Obbara’), John Scofield (guitar on ‘Travelling Riverside Blues’), Gary Schreiner (chromatic harmonica on ‘I’ll Be There’), Marc Quinones (timbales on ‘La Luna’) and even Matt Dillon, who contributes a spoken word cameo on ‘Lengua de Obbara.’

The Members of The Pedrito Martinez Group

Esteemed music critic Larry Blumenfeld wrote in a recent Jazziz profile (whose headline was ‘Voice like Thunder, Hands like Lightning’), ‘For all the genre-busting innovation and complexity the quartet projects, there is something distinctly soulful and centered about the music, and that no doubt emanates from Martinez. His arms form blurs as he pounds out rhythms. He changes up rhythms and tempos with barely a nod, so slick is his performance style.’

Arriving in New York from Havana in 1998, Pedrito Martínez could have a brilliant career as a lead singer, dancer, songwriter, percussionist or folkloric music specialist. A consummate master of Afro-Cuban folkloric music, he doesn’t just play the obligatory handful of standard batá rhythms ‘” he plays the monumentally complex Oru seco exquisitely on each drum, or on all three at once. He’s also the world’s first-call rumbero ‘” playing, singing and dancing with dozens of groups and on over 100 recordings and contributing to or appearing in several important films, including Calle 54 (2000) and Chico and Rita (2010). Of the albums that feature him, six have been GRAMMY-nominated and one was a GRAMMY-winner. Equally at home in popular music, his perfectly intoned tenor voice, seamlessly combined popular and folkloric influences, infectious energy, humor, charisma and dance moves make him as formidable a front man as he is a percussionist. He draws on these many talents simultaneously and continuously in PMG.

Also born in Cuba, Ariacne Trujillo began her career as a child prodigy concert pianist. Blessed with perfect pitch, she was able to graduate with honors from Cuba’s hyper-competitive ISA conservatory while working as a singer and dancer at the legendary Cabaret Tropicana. Since arriving in New York, her résumé includes performances with the likes of Paul Simon and Paquito d’Rivera. Such impressive bona fides aside, the most important qualities Trujillo brings to the mix are her ability to improvise both form and content, and her truly relentless sense of time. It’s standard Cuban practice to break down to piano, clave and kick drum, but PMG repeatedly breaks down to piano ‘” just piano ‘” and you have to experience it in concert to believe the unstoppable groove that Trujillo lays down- often while singing lead in her powerful and endlessly flexible voice.

A scholarship from Berklee College of Music brought bassist Álvaro Benavides to the United States from his native Venezuela. Like Trujillo, he’s a brilliant soloist with unshakeable timing that allows him to shoulder the entire groove when the rest of the musicians drop out, or to power the band to a devastating bomba climax with wicked thumps, slaps and slides that congeal and combust with Pedrito’s cajón to produce as powerful and uplifting a rhythmic surge as the largest and most aggressive Cuban bands.

Born in Perú and raised in New York, Jhair Sala spent his formative years studying intensively with Pedrito Martínez. He’s now in high demand as a session musician and bandleader in his own right, but there’s an uncanny magic when he plays with Pedrito. With literally thousands of hours of studying, performing and jamming together, the two drummers play as one.

Kevin Moore

Track Listing:

1. Conciencia (Pedrito Martínez) 6:04

2. Lengua De Obbara 6:28

3. Travelling Riverside Blues (Jimmy Page / Robert Plant) 5:51

4. La Luna 5:52

5. Memories 7:50

6. La Habana 6:16

7. I’ll Be There (Hal Davis / Willie Hutch / Berry Gordy, Jr. / Bob West) 5:55

8. Música (Pedrito Martínez) 5:35

9. Después De Todo (Juan Formell) 7:45

10. Los Santos 6:16


Pedrito Martinez: percussion, lead vocals

Ariacne Trujillo: piano, lead vocals

Alvaro Benavides: electric bass, background vocals

Jhair Sala: percussion, background vocals

Special Guests

Wynton Marsalis: trumpet

John Scofield: guitar

Steve Gadd: drums

Gary Schreiner: chromatic harmonica

Marc Quiñones: timbales

Matt Dillon: spoken word

Recorded at Avatar Studios, New York, NY and MSR Studios, New York, NY

Produced by Steve Gadd and Pedrito Martinez

Co-producer: Paul Siegel


On the front cover of their debut album, The Pedrito Martinez group, declares their music to be “The Latin Jazz Revolution!” and revolutionary might just be the best way to describe the group’s music. Pedrito Martinez is undeniably one of the most talented young musicians in Latin music today and has become one of the most in-demand in the industry for both his beautiful voice and his exceptional percussion skills. The group he leads is expanding the definitions of Latin jazz seamlessly blending the styles of timba, gospel, guaguanco, blues, jazz, and classical music into their own sound that bursts with energy and never ceases to groove. 
Besides Martinez, this group is blessed with another prodigiously talented individual, Cuban pianist, Ariacne Trujillo. Trujillo is an accomplished pianist, vocalist, and dancer, and performs each of these roles with a confidence and conviction, seldom seen in such young musicians. Venezuelan-born bassist, Alvaro Benavides is also a key part of this band’s sound. His unshakable time and his ability to find exactly the right groove are central to the band’s effortless shifts between feels. Peruvian-born percussionist, Jhair Sala, has spent years studying with Martinez and the two of them share a special connection in their playing and seem to groove as one. 

Despite the complexity of the music, the groove and time feel of the group never suffers for it. Even during instrumental breaks or extended a capella passages, the underlying rhythm is always explicitly present and the music propels itself forward with a relaxed energy. Every member of the band seems perfectly in sync with the time. Not a note seems wasted. 
Obviously this group has been influenced by myriad traditional Latin styles as well as popular North American styles but it doesn’t seem accurate to describe the music as only being “influenced” by these styles. The musicians play the music with such authority and confidence that the music becomes a unique blend of authenticity and creativity, tradition and innovation. The Pedrito Martinez Group’s debut album puts them at the forefront of the “Latin Jazz Revolution.”

Andrew Luhn (All About Jazz)