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Timba! Pedrito Martinez at the Jack London Revue- May 3rd, 2018

By MICHAEL CONLEY // The audience was delighted, the energy was hot, and the crowd stayed till the end. There were many moments during the set when I had to stop taking notes and get up to dance!


I arrived during the set break to catch the second show tonight. The crowd was mostly folks staying over from the first set, and there was palpable excitement lingering in the warm air. This is Timba music, distinctly different from Salsa, which features a steady, grooving beat played for dancers. The Timba sound is very sophisticated, and though you can dance to it, it's not mechanical and repetitive. The arrangements include lots of hairpin turns and switchbacks- sudden shifts of rhythm, tempo and dynamics.

The set began with the bass player Sebastian Natal creating a propulsive solo vamp, soon layered with a Rhodes sound from the keyboardist Isaac Delgado, Jr. Pedrito Martinez, dressed unassumingly in dark pants and a red and black plaid lumberjack shirt, a red trucker hat and metal-frame glasses, sat behind his drums and led the audience in clapping on 2 and 4. As he and second percussionist Jhair Sala joined in on their drums, they launched into a driving double-time against the beat being clapped by the audience, then blasted off like a rocket!

After setting up an interesting groove and breaking it down again with punchy cajón, (a wooden box drum originally from Peru which the player sits upon), Martinez embarked on a 5-conga smackfest over a Rock vamp from the piano and the bass. A sophisticated montuno segued into a chorus, with everyone singing “Pasame La Botella” ( “pass me the bottle”), a lighthearted and fun number that the audience enjoyed.

Pedrito then gave a shout-out to “one of the greatest percussionists from Cuba”, Portland’s own Miguel Bernal, now a member of Pink Martini.

The next tune began with a keyboard intro using a kind of gossamer sound reminiscent of 70s pop, in a ballad tempo, but with lots of action in the congas, and a great lead vocal by Martinez.  At one point the big men in the back- the bass player and the second percussionist, danced nimbly, in sync, their instruments at rest. At the end of this tune all sang harmony, backing the lead vocal by Martinez.

It should be noted that Martinez, this formidable drummer, quite a monster in that regard, sings lead vocals that are very, very good- he hits the high notes and he conveys the drama and excitement that one gets from the best Cuban singers.

Martinez’ kit featured 5 conga drums, two cymbals suspended above and in front of him, a snare drum, a hi-hat cymbal and also a foot pedal striking a cowbell. In addition to this he was sitting on the cajón, with which he often punctuated the music with thundering bass drum energy- this was really the bass drum sound of this band. He played all of these instruments except the bell with his bare hands.

Second percussionist Sala had one conga, bongos on a stand, and a tom-tom mounted at waist height that he would pound with fierce, rapid sticking, also used to play cascara parts on the side of the drum. Additionally, he often played insistent patterns on a large cowbell.  

One of their tunes had an odd, jerky out-chorus, which almost sounded off-rhythm, but came under control right at the end. This type of rhythmic variety was typical of the set- while some of the rhythms were quite smooth, some of them were rather jarring and rough, and they would rapidly pivot between typical, well-known elements of Latin Jazz such as montuno vamps and customary flourishes from the piano with very rootsy drumming bearing elements not only of Afro-Cuban music, but also Funk and Rock & Roll. Bass player Natal has definitely listened to a lot of Funk and Rock, and he played some very aggressive rhythms.

At this point the piano started out in a slightly different style of lyrical playing and the congas made some very interesting unison hits that followed the vocal melody up some chord tones before breaking down into a spare duet between keys and conga. This lasted just a minute and then- BLAM!- they were busy going full-blast again!

Yet another one of these numbers began with nice, leapfrogging minor chords on keyboard and great, imploring high notes in the vocals, continuing with the piano riding over galloping percussion with both drummers on congas and Pedrito dropping some hard, Rock-style accents, before switching gears to a knotty montuno from the piano, twisted further with some furious hammering of the skins.

Miguelito Bernal sat in on the conga, tearing it up with his soloing and trading with the leader in a brief but formidable turn on stage concluding with an abrazo (hug) from Pedrito Martinez and cheers from the crowd.

Pedrito next invited some women up on stage to dance with the band. There was space for a few of them up there, and with plenty of dancers in the room, several young ladies obliged his request. Pedrito himself got up to dance a little bit during this number “ Al Fin de la  -----”. I'm not sure what the last word was, but everyone on stage was singing some nice chords at the end.

Ostensibly that was to have been their last number, but Pedrito picked up the bass guitar, Jhair Sala took over on congas, the piano player took the second percussion chair, and with bass player Natal on piano, they rocked out for a while like that.

The crowd wasn't ready to go home yet, shouting “Otra” (encore). The encore was a song about a dream (sueño), Natal getting back on his bass and Pedrito sitting back at the congas. Both men took off their shirts and Pedrito played his most powerful solo of the night with killer fills and solo chops on the conga to end the performance.  

One thing that was striking about this group was the organic sound of Martinez on his congas juxtaposed with the artificial keyboard sounds which are ubiquitous in the modern era yet do not vibrate the same way acoustic instruments do. While they do open up a lot of possibilities for working musicians with many sounds available from one instrument, a digital keyboard doesn't behave the same way as an acoustic instrument in the room, since all the sound is coming out of the speakers.

Placing mics on all the congas and percussion might not be necessary in a room the size of the Jack London Revue. There is no doubt at all that powerful players like Pedrito and Jhair on percussion would have no problem being heard in that room at an acoustic, un-amplified volume. But this is the age we live in- everything's amped up to the max. It wasn't painfully loud but I felt there was some distortion, especially from the cajón and the vocal mics, rendering the lyrics more difficult to discern..

The audience was delighted, the energy was hot, and the crowd stayed till the end. Once again Jack London Revue has presented a very worthwhile cultural experience to the people of Portland, and I urge the public to get out and support the talent that is coming to this club. There were many moments during the set when I had to stop taking notes and get up to dance! I also encourage readers to check out this band’s new record which is coming out this summer.


Some quotes from the Wikipedia entry for Timba music

Compared to salsa

Though quite similar to salsa on the surface of things due to origins from son heritage, timba has certain qualities of its own which distinguish it from salsa, similar to the way American R&B is distinguished from soul. In general, timba is considered to be a highly aggressive type of music, with rhythm and "swing" taking precedence over melody and lyricism. Associated with timba is a radically sexual and provocative dance style known as despelote (literally meaning chaos or frenzy) that consists of rapid gyrations of the body and pelvis, thrusting and trembling motions, bending over and generating harmonic oscillations of the gluteous maximus.[4] Those involved in the performance and popularization of timba crafted a culture of black, strong, masculine pride, and a narrative of male hypersexulaity to go with timba's so-called "masculine" sound.[33]

Also different from salsa is the frequent shift from major to minor keys (and vice versa), the highly complex rhythmic arrangements (often based on santería or abakuá rhythms), the shifts in speed and the large number of orchestrated breaks, or "bloques". Also, owing to its many Afro Cuban origins (and, of course, to traditional Cuban music such as Son), Timba music is highly syncopated.

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