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Pedro Martins Goes from Victory to Vox

A contest win leads to a musical partnership for the guitarist

Guitarist Pedro Martins
Pedro Martins (photo: Heartcore Records)

When 21-year-old Pedro Martins took top honors in the 2015 Socar Montreux Jazz Electric Guitar Competition, the payoff came with multiple prizes, including a monetary award, a recording session, and official mentorship time. The biggest reward, however, turned out to be the enduring friendship he would come to form with fellow guitarist Kurt Rosenwinkel, who presided over the jury that unanimously crowned Martins the winner. Their bond would ultimately lead to the completion and recent release of Martins’ entrancing Vox on Rosenwinkel’s Heartcore Records imprint.   

The meeting between these two outsized talents in Montreux was something of a full-circle event for Martins, who, thanks to some listening advice from friend and mentor Daniel Santiago, became infatuated with Rosenwinkel’s music as a teenager growing up in Brazil. “Daniel was playing Kurt’s music for me when I was 13,” Martins recalls, “and he connects to things at such a deep level that you can hear the music through his ears and experiences.” The Socar competition brought these two kindred spirits into an orbit of mutual respect, but it was in a peculiar, seemingly preordained moment—when Martins started playing Rosenwinkel some music from the elder’s 2017 album, Caipi, prior to that album’s existence—that the relationship was truly cemented.

Martins explains the absurdist scenario: “When I was at Daniel’s home in 2008, I guess, Kurt had just visited Rio de Janeiro. He was in the early stages of putting together Caipi, and he felt that it had to do with Brazil, so he went down there and was trying to find some inspiration. He left some of his demos with friends there, and these demos ended up in Daniel’s hands. He played some of that stuff for me and I was so knocked out that I had to have a copy.” Years later, long after Martins had internalized that music, he spun it back around for a stunned Rosenwinkel. “After I first met Kurt, we were hanging out and I was at the piano … and I played one of these songs. And Kurt was so scared, [saying things] like, ‘What the fuck? How do you know that music? How do you know that song? That stuff is only on my computer.’” According to Martins, Rosenwinkel had forgotten all about the recordings he left behind in Brazil.

With Martins already fluent on several of Caipi’s pieces, and Rosenwinkel searching for a missing ingredient on the album, that fateful moment at the piano would come to alter both musicians’ course. “Kurt invited me to be part of the record,” Martins says. “I ended up playing and singing on several tracks. Then he called me to London to mix the record with him. We were making decisions about arrangements, so he ended up giving me a co-producer credit.” He also invited Martins into his touring band, an expansive ensemble that crossed the globe.

By this time, Vox—a spellbinding album of “jazz-inflected Brazilian rock songs,” as tagged by Heartcore’s website—was well underway. This highly personal statement, which finds Martins on vocals, flute, piano, synthesizers, guitar, bass, drums, and percussion, had its genesis in 2014 but really began to coalesce through the Montreux experience. Rosenwinkel says he heard something special in Martins’ music: “Beautiful melodies and sophisticated and organic harmonic movement, excellent from a formal and thematic point of view, rhythmically unique with a deep groove,” along with “a depth of maturity and soul” and other intangible strengths like duende. It inspired him to advise, assist, and encourage Martins who, making use of the aforementioned recording session prize, was able to lay down a few basic tracks. Then the two musicians bounced ideas back and forth until the album was complete. 

With Rosenwinkel’s involvement, friends like drummer Antonio Loureiro and bassist Frederico Heliodoro in the mix, and pianist Brad Mehldau and saxophonist Chris Potter dropping by as guests, Martins successfully laid out his conscious and subconscious thoughts for all to hear. The album is pointedly intimate throughout, but nowhere more than during the dizzying swirl of “Venus”—a coital confession tied to an early relationship. Elsewhere, as on the Potter-enhanced “Faces,” which explores a “deeper layer of communication” within gazs and guises, and the dream-inspired “Horizonte,” driven by a weighty yet motile 16th-note groove and set aglow with flitting lines, Martins capably bridges the personal and the universal. At certain moments, his love of the culture and music of the Brazilian state of Minas Gerais—the work of Milton Nascimento and Toninho Horta, for example—is revealed. But regardless of specific influence, intent, or origin, all of Martins’ music reflects his own singular voice and experience. “Writing songs is a way of confessing something,” he says, “a way of conveying all the love I feel about something. I try to write songs that really come from a genuine feeling.”

Dan Bilawsky

Dan Bilawsky has been involved in jazz journalism for 15 years. His work has appeared in JazzTimes, JAZZed, and All About Jazz, among other outlets. In addition, he’s penned liner notes for artists on Red, Capri, HighNote/Savant, Ropeadope, and other respected imprints. A band director with 20 years of teaching experience, he holds degrees in music from Indiana University, the Aaron Copland School of Music at Queens College, and Five Towns College.