Pedrito Martinez Group
Toward the end of a 2019 Tiny Desk Concert by The Pedrito Martinez Group, the band almost seems to be teasing its namesake, the Havana-born conguero whose virtuosic rumbas have stirred the Grammys and the Billboard Latin Albums Chart, been tapped by pop stars from Springsteen to Gaga, but always stayed joyously rooted in Afro-Cuban folk and religious music at their fullest, most multifaceted levels.
After moving to the United States two decades ago, Martinez won the Thelonious Monk International Jazz Competition and quickly joined the upper echelon of New York-area session musicians. Through years of residencies in basement clubs and sweaty dives, he built The Pedrito Martinez Group into the irrepressible band that, on the 2021 album Acerjito, unleashed “yet another tour de force, interweaving rock, R&B, funk, jazz, and even classical music into his deep Afro-Cuban sound,” according to Afropop Worldwide.
In the NPR video, keyboardist Issac Delgado Jr. repeats a stunted phrase, smiling at Martinez innocently, while bassist Sebastian Natal plays outside of his main line, as if offering a space to let loose. Finally, Martinez does, and for the next three minutes, the viewer—and probably the man himself—forgets that he’s stuck in the corner of a D.C. office complex as he conjures a solo of astonishing vigor and timbral variety from a small complement of hand drums. When Martinez finally wipes his brow as the band locks back into place, the effect is one of forestalled ecstasy. But such stunning moments are all in a day’s work for The Pedrito Martinez Group.