Stories » Pedrito Martinez Group gets Kennedy Center crowd to its feet / Washington Post

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Pedrito Martinez Group gets Kennedy Center crowd to its feet / Washington Post

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It's not instantly clear that there's jazz in Havana native Pedrito Martinez's music. The percussionist leans toward a pop take on Cuban mambo, more focused on song form and sustained rhythmic momentum than on improvisation. (Although, in fairness, the latter isn't absent.) Slowly, however, his quartet brought a Saturday-night Kennedy Center audience around to its way of doing things.

Opening with a simmering groove led by Martinez's congas and Yunior Terry's bass, a substitute for regular bassist Alvaro Benavides, the group quickly exploded into a four-part vocal with a straight mambo feel, down to pianist Edgar Pantoja-Aleman's guajeo riffs. It took a minute to realize that it had a 12-bar blues structure. Then came what at first sounded like a slow jam but was a long, mid-tempo song with more harmonized vocals. The rhythm was so infectious that Martinez stood up in the middle of his conga solo to gyrate his hips. The audience at the KC Jazz Club may have known what it was in for; Martinez has played there before. But while people were clearly enjoying themselves, they were sitting politely and clapping in all the right places - a run-of-the-mill jazz crowd.

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