The Pedrito Martinez Group: Habana Dreams

Pedrito Martinez, the Cuban-born percussionist whose 2013 Motéma leader debut earned him a Grammy nomination, is celebrating big-time on the follow-up. With U.S.-Cuban relations having thawed, the longtime New York resident convened his group and headed to Havana’s famed EGREM Studios to make a record. He then invited top-shelf guests like Wynton Marsalis, Rubén Blades and Angélique Kidjo, as well as members of his own family, still in Cuba, to participate in the homecoming project. The joy and jubilation are palpable throughout.

It’s tempting to get right to the special guests-Marsalis blowing hot on the opener, “Mi Tempestad”; Kidjo belting out her bit on “Tributo a Santiago de Cuba”-but the core band deserves foremost attention. Martinez has long been one of New York’s go-to congueros, but he’s truly come into his own as a bandleader. Doubling as lead vocalist, he’s joined by Jhair Sala (percussion and background vocals), Edgar Pantoja-Alemán (piano, keyboard and background vocals) and Álvaro Benavides (electric bass), as thrilling an Afro-Cuban unit as any working today. On several tracks, notably Juan Mesa’s “Recuerdos,” featuring Román Diaz and Martinez’s relatives on additional percussion, the piling rhythms exude heat and happiness.

While Habana Dreams would have been as delectable minus the marquee guests, there’s no denying that they elevate it. Blades, on his own composition, “Antadilla,” is seductive and vibrant, and Marsalis augments and accompanies handsomely. Another vocalist, Issac Delgado, takes the lead on Martinez’s title track, which is as close to Latin pop as the record veers, albeit with more than a bow to an earlier salsa era. Habana Dreams, along with other recent high-profile Latin-jazz projects teaming Cuban and Western artists and recorded on the island, is a fulfilled promise.

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