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Martinez Akustica

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Review by Lloyd Bradford Syke

I've seen, heard and reviewed Martinez Akustica a number of times now. I never tire of doing so, for every performance, even if numerous of the same tunes are played, is fresh and vital. I discover their music anew, as if for the first time. I've the feeling they do too. MA is Victor, the elder, the maestro, the father; Andro, the backbone; Dauno, the showoff.

On this occasion, at 505, they had the warmest of warmups, in Rosie Henshaw, who's worth an extensive essay in her own right.

Hers is a kind of soulful, Brazilian jazz-pop, falling somewhere between Joni Mitchell, Ricky lee Jones, Norah Jones and Astrud Gilberto; for want of a better approximation. It's also been described as 'organic, acoustic soul'. Take your pick.

Apparently, and somewhat incongruously, Rosie spent her rootless, no-fixed-address childhood somewhere between Australia, India and Honkers. You'd never know she was weaned on Chinese opera, wafting from the temple over the road. Or that she learnt sitar (which is still very much on her menu) at her boarding school. In the Himalayas. And had audiences of literally thousands watch her dance. From the age of seven. To look at, or listen to her, you'd never guess any of that. It's improbable. But true. She was steeped, on the maternal side, in the classical (her mother sang). And on the paternal, in 'da funk' (her father had quite a record collection) .

She began to compose at 13, accompanying herself on guitar and, later, electric bass and percussion. She still does. Her sweet, whimsical songs (there's one about mosquitoes, if I heard correctly) are somehow, at the same time, moving and poignant, built around bass grooves. At other times, you might find her fronting The Bakery, an outrageous, fun-loving eleven-piece, or touring, internationally, with Old Man River. Her sound is curled-up-on-the-couch intimate; her presence quietly charismatic. But the most astounding biographical fact has to be she's not even twenty-three. She might be a mere spring chicken, but she's as well-seasoned as your Sunday chook. She has a debut album due later in the year (on which numerous of the Martinez dynasty will feature) and, if the songs she payed last night are any indication, I'd be placing my order now. One of the younger Martinez brothers, Banel, featured on guitar, stylistically showing he's very much the son of the avant grade Victor, but with his own, very distinctive skew. Rosie afforded him generous space in which to strut his stuff. Percussionist, Sandro Bueno, was on cajon.

I can't pretend I could make out all the lyrics, but I did catch that the first song (Jasmine Song, appropriately enough) was about jasmine; I thought the perfumed flower (was that one in her hair?), but no, it's about her cousin, who suffers from juvenile rheumatoid arthritis (thanks to a reaction after a rubella vaccination, at birth). It's personal and she shows us the love.

You (the song formerly known as On The Line is a road song, in the sense of being written on a journey through India last year, where Rosie took time out to chill at a meditation bootcamp. The subcontinental flavours insinuate themselves here and there; both rhythmically and melodically. Beyond that, this is an adventurous contemporary jazz outing, through and through (in May, the band performed it at Takatsuki Jazz Street Festival, in Osaka), which isn't to say it couldn't, or hasn't, found an alternative folk-rock audience, for example. Think Jen Cloher, or Gen Maynard, even.

Anyway, who needs genre classifications? It is what it is. Definitely funky, with Banel's syncopated breaks surging to fill the spaces left by the tight interlock of bass and cajon. 'You are the creator of all things above; all things wonderful', effuses the lyric. If you're up there, big guy, this is for you. Despite its gazing upwards, the bassline prefers a paradoxical guttersnipe groove. There's some fluent scatting, too.

On Your Way, which followed, has been around for a few years, a track from her debut EP. She slides straight into this and over songs without a break, which certainly helps keep the momentum. Pretty sophisticated debut, if you ask me, what with its provocative syncopation and out-there guitar breaks. It's sassy; knowing; worldly.

Melody comes from the same EP and is another breath of fresh, cool, invigorating air; like flinging a window wide open early on a fragrant summer's day. A summer's day in Rio, or Sao Paulo, by the sound of it.

Speaking of cool, what could be cooler than living underwater? That's what Bubble Song speculates upon. What are you on, Rosie? Whatever, I want some. I reckon this is the kind of song kids would like. It's a kind of soul-jazzer's Octopus's Garden. Kind of.

Then, that pesky mozzie song, variously known as Vampire (Ode To A Mosquito) and Mosquito. After all, the mozzie is the modern day vampire, right? Rosie has this one translated into Japanese and released it, on that self-same debut EP. And of course, needless to say, it went down a treat at Takatsuki. It boasts some very tasty, bluesy guitar licks, as well as an easy, shuffling Latin rhythm. And it doesn't bite. It just pleasantly buzzes around your ears, thanks to Rosie's trademark sleek, slick, cool-as-a-cuke vocal style and droll lyrics: 'suck on my blood'; 'does it taste sweet?'. And 'let's make a compromise: you can have some of my blood, but I'm going to take your life'; 'you're some kind of vampire, in insect's clothing'. Throwaway, but utterly charming.

Ode to Music pays homage, just as the title suggests, to music which, like humour, may just be more powerful than love.
 
Music is an axis,
Which the world revolves around.
You don't have to practice,
Just open up your mind.

Let that music cloak you,
In a warm blanket of peace.
Open up your heart
And let that music speak.

A little later, when Victor occupied the stage solo, Rosie joined him for his arrangement of a very popular 90s 'J-pop' song, by Japanese boy band, Smap: Yozora No Mokou, which she sang in Japanese. The VM arrangement focuses in on and celebrates its almost breathtakingly beautiful melody. It's transporting; which just goes to show, if your ears. eyes, mind and heart are wide open, you can find heaven, even in the most unlikely places, on Earth. But you probably need more than that. It's a visionary kind of musical genius, about as common as hen's teeth, that prevails in Victor's case: first you have to recognise the what amongst the chaff; then isolate the musical golden sheaf such that it shines.

Martinez Akustica began its set, as I've mentioned with Victor, solo, and a fantasy arrangement, by same, of Stevie Wonder's seminal classic, You Are The Sunshine Of My Life. I hope Stevie gets to hear it, if he hasn't already. Victor, in typical fashion, goes right to the outer edges and limits of rhythmic and melodic possibilities and, perhaps, even a little further, while still relating to the intention, feeling and integrity of the composition. I can't imagine a higher, more respectful (if not downright reverent) compliment being paid to one of my most favourite songs, of all time. He honours it, to an almost fervent, religious extent, taking us on an extended journey, borne on the strings of his classical guitar, before finally arriving at the main theme. I could have gone home after this one piece. It was like lingering over a bottle of fine wine.

Yozora No Mukou, as above, was next, and I could hardly wax more lyrically; at least not without you questioning the sincerity of my superlatives. VM has veritably rewritten this song and made it his own. And Rosie's. It's sublime.  

Blue Bossa is, of course, an instrumental jazz classic; a standard, written by singer, trumpeter and composer Kenny Dorham (whose name, it's been said, has become 'virtually synonymous with underrated'), but which first came to light on Joe Henderson's 1963 album, Page One, and has been further popularised by the likes of Dexter Gordon and John Coltrane. MA's rendition sweeps you up and flies you, on a magic carpet ride, along the melody line. This is the point at which Andro and Dauno join Victor on stage. There's Andro, to the left, the backbone, strumming out the reworked rhythmic spine of the tune, leaving ample airspace for Dauno's blistering, extroverted lead breaks (his acoustic guitar transforms into an electric, or a Hammond organ, or who knows what, at his beckoning), with Victor's dignified bursts of classical technique the centrepiece. It's not frenetic like Trane's take, nor does it have the swinging staccato of Henderson's; MA's BB is a kind of new bossa, if you will, with all the bumps ironed out. It just burbles along. Which doesn't mean idles: none could ever accuse MA of standing still; they're busy as, beavering away, looking for nuance, experimenting, nudging the very considerable limits of their expertise. They dare themselves and each other to go to new places and get there faster. It's enthralling.   

New Timba (album title track) is inspired by the Cuban salsa style of that name. It's big, very big, on danceable rhythm, as you might expect, but peppered with fiery lead breaks, It's an urgent, almost anxious sound.

Aqui Esta Ella (Here She Is), by contrast, is a well-chilled ballad (inasmuch as anything with a Latin feel can ever be 'chilled'); mellow might be a better word, but not in flaccid sense, because it still has spades of spirit. One can well imagine the object of one's affections, would-be or actual, entering the room to this tune. It eloquently describes the range of emotion one might have in such circumstances. Feelings of tenderness &longing; excitement & desire; ease & contentment.

Fantasy on Violeta Parra (arrangement by VM and sons) is a popular Chilean song that begins with a vibrating string on Victor's guitar, sounding distinctly native American; somewhere between a mouth harp and a didgeridoo. Mysterious, intense and even and slightly menacing, it is, at the same time, meditative and features some very pleasing harmony. And as is commonplace with MA, just when we're settling in, getting  relaxed and comfortable with the tune, they create interference, breaking the melody, lapsing into an almost anarchic strumfest, before returning to it. There's a chord sequence that, intentionally or not, puts me in mind of Pinball Wizard and excursions into rock and jazz-rock. There are more scorching lead breaks and the whole thing takes flight, before landing back on South American soil. Again, it's a banquet for the ears; totally absorbing; as quenching as a spring in the Sahara.

A standing ovation? At 505, where everyone seems so cool and hangs so loose? You better believe it. The response was rapturous, demanding an encore, which came in the form of Los Tres Fiesteros (The Three Party Animals), a newbie, currently under construction, which is to say, it's being recorded almost as I write. This is flamenco in full colour; as virile, invigorated, passionate and sensual as anything and everything else these three maestros play. Incredible!

 

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