There is a paradox within the strain of Latin jazz that Hector Martignon plays. While it is all about rhythmic complexity, with a goal of creating high-pressure excitement, it becomes static when the intensity is unrelenting and lacking in dynamic variation. Martignon pays a compliment to one of his rhythm sections here by calling it “an infernal rhythm machine.” Undeniably, it takes skill to play this stuff. But if you go flat-out too much of the time, you sound like a machine.
Refugee incorporates various combinations of three guitarists, four bassists, four drummers and three percussionists. There is serious talent among them (e.g., Richard Bona, Eddie Gomez, “Tain” Watts, Mark Whitfield). You can’t tell the players without a program, but it doesn’t matter much. Most of the tracks are similar bass-heavy densities, with thundering drummers and Martignon’s fidgety, interchangeable acoustic and electric piano melodies buried in the mix. When there is solo interest it usually comes from a guitarist, Whitfield or Edgardo Miranda.
It is exceedingly rare for a recording made at Systems Two in Brooklyn to have sonic issues, but this one is crowded and congealed, boomy, airless and two-dimensional. The mix may be to blame.