Tony Martinez

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It's rare to hear an Afro-Cuban band led by a saxophonist, but Martinez is doing it. On this, his second CD, he and his band have some great horn charts, bubbling percussion, and a few new slants, as well as tried, and true traditional-oriented grooves to play. The ten-piece ensemble is greatly enhanced by the incredible pianist Gonzalo Rubalcaba, and outstanding trumpet solos by Julio Padron. The first three selections of the eight total are about as good as it gets. An instrumental son montuno with tumbao melody, "Tumbao Pa' Mi Timbal" is a spectacular, vocal-like brass with punctuating saxes and percussion uplift, skyscraper style. The danceable 13-plus-minute "Gracias Chucho," for Chucho Valdes, is a polyrhythmic masterpiece, with group vocal chants, cooking percussion, and piano ostinato setting up the flailing horns. The son "Pa' Lo' Latino" sports a third consecutive great horn chart, simpler than the previous one, but no less dense and powerful. Martinez plays an animated alto on the first two, piano on the third. His near-14-minute tribute to "Mr Coltrane" is quite atypical of 'Trane, a very rhythmically complex fusion head with the electric guitar of Dany Martínez in tandem with the horns, then settling into a groove for the soloists, particularly Padron, Martinez on tenor sax, and Rubalcaba. Martinez as pianist shines during the firebrand, trumpet led "Homenaje a Emiliano," for Emiliano Salvador, a developmental eight minutes of upbeat rhythm, to a slower drums-and-percussion segment, to vocal call and response with the horns, Martinez trying to match Rubalcaba's earlier stated brilliance. There are some lighter funk and cha-cha-cha pop tunes, with the finale a precise classic adaptation of "A Babalu Aye," Martinez sounding similar to David Sanborn's upper register alto signature. As a leader, Martinez has it all together, though his sound as a personalized saxophonist takes a backseat to the overall group dynamic. Nonetheless, some great music is on this CD and is heartily recommended for those who like the Puente-Palmieri-Irakere strain of Latin jazz.

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