Pianist Alfredo Rodríguez and percussionist/vocalist Pedrito Martinez each embody and exemplify different perspectives on Afro-Cuban jazz from its current generation of rising stars. Martinez is firmly rooted in the tradition and a near-endless wellspring of grooves. Rodríguez, on the other hand, threads the cadence and tone of the island through an ambient, melodious sound indebted to Keith Jarrett as much as Eddie Palmieri. On their new album, Duologue, the two musicians not only revel in each other’s styles but also engage in some deep reflection on the nature of the culture that produced them.
Duologue operates as dialogue on multiple levels: There’s the exchange between the two artists, of course, but the record also highlights the forces that affected two kids growing up in 1980s Cuba. The opening number, “Africa,” sets the tone as the two lean into a Yoruba rhythm to invoke one of the unyielding roots of Afro-Cuban music. More contemporary history finds its way into the music too. The delightfully corny sounds of ’80s synth-pop resonate across the 11 tracks, from the R&B slow jam of “Flor” to the riotous cover of Michael Jackson’s “Thriller.”
As enthralling as these cultural considerations are, the true beauty of Duologue is the sheer joy that spills forth from every note that Rodríguez and Martinez play together. Their styles blend to create songs with aching lyricism, watercolor soundscapes that are driven by captivating mambo grooves. Tracks like “Cosas del Amor,” “Jardín Soñador,” and “Mariposa” feel like chromatic dreams, ballads and tone poems inspiring childlike wonder and awe. It’s easy to get lost in such enchanting music.