Alfredo Rodriguez/Pedrito Martinez: Duologue

Dan Bilawsky By

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When running down the names of notable and somewhat recent Cuban exports in the jazz realm, Alfredo Rodriguez and Pedrito Martinez both rank at the top of the list. Rodriguez, a conservatory trained pianist with a strong familial connection to the aural arts, came under the wing of the great Quincy Jones back in 2006. He made his way to the United States three years later and began taking the world by storm when he delivered his stunning debut—Sounds Of Space (Mack Avenue, 2012). Martinez, a percussionist reared on the street scene in Havana, arrived stateside just over a decade earlier than Rodriguez. He quickly vaulted to the top of his peer group, besting a talented bunch to take top honors at the Thelonious Monk Institute's Afro-Latin Hand Drum Competition, appearing in the critically-acclaimed documentary Calle 54, co-founding the band Yerba Buena, and racking up an extensive list of sideman credits with everybody from Paquito D'Rivera to Paul Simon. He's since become a widely respected leader in his own right, most recently delivering a pair of celebrated albums on the Motéma Music imprint.

Joining forces for the aptly named Duologue, these two men live up to their respective reputations. Percussive perspicacity, harmonic sophistication, vocal grace and melodic purity stand as one when these virtuoso artists get going. The music that they create in collaboration speaks both to a folkloric sweep and modernist thrust. But whether they're calling on the spirits or calculating a danceable design, there remains a single-mindedness driving this two-man vehicle. The title track, for example, is aural actuation at its finest. Martinez plays as a section of one, completely filling out the sound while Rodriguez's fingers flit. Elsewhere, this pair plugs directly into cultural outlets. With the classic "El Punto Cubano," the duo looks south; on "Mariposa," Rodriguez's woolgathering serves as a connection to his past while Martinez works in low gear; and through "Africa," all of the dots connect place to place and time to space in dynamic fashion.

While this music is a clear acknowledgement of personal history and pathways, it also allows for Rodriguez and Martinez to make broader connections to popular culture. And with Jones in the picture, co-producing the record, it shouldn't come as too great a surprise that there's a pair of nods toward that ideal. A retooled "Thriller" comes early, touching on Q's weight while highlighting the arranging skills of the duo. And further on, a smart take on the theme from the Super Mario Bros. 3 video game shows up to match wonder and whimsy. Rodriguez and Martinez may both have strong personalities, but each is comfortable flexing to support the other. That's evident throughout this absorbing duologue.

Track Listing: Africa; Estamos Llegando; Thriller; Cosas Del Amor; Duologue; El Punto Cubano; Flor; Jardín Soñador; Super Mario Bros 3; Mariposa; Yo Volveré.

Personnel: Alfredo Rodriguez: keyboards, vocals; Pedrito Martinez: percussion, vocals.

Title: Duologue | Year Released: 2019 | Record Label: Mack Avenue Records

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