A Wild Cuban Salsa Dance Party at Drom

by delarue

Friday night at Drom, percussionist Pedrito Martinez and his band put on a feral, thunderous dance party. This wasn’t tame, watered-down covers of famous salsa jams from the 70s: Martinez plays originals, set to a constantly shifting, slinky groove. If the club wasn’t sold out, it was close to capacity, and from the second the smoke machine kicked in and the band hit the stage, people were dancing in their seats.

That didn’t last. By the end, everybody was on their feet. There was one particular couple who spent the entirety of the show twirling in between the tables, and they were just as interesting to watch as the band were, completely locked into the kaleidoscope of rhythms. When the pretty brunette saw Martinez move from behind his massive kit to show off his own dance moves at the front of the stage, she leapt up onstage and joined him. By the end of the show, the duo looked as if they’d changed shirts. You would have too if you’d given yourself that kind of workout.

In this band, everybody is part of the percussion section, even the horns. Martinez had six congas, a snare, hi-hat, two cymbals slung overhead, and would occasionally drive home a turnaround with a mighty thump on the cajon he was sitting on. He introduced his timbalero as “the greatest percussionist of his generation,” and nobody in the crowd argued with that, especially when the two dueled and built supersonic volleys of beats, to a tropical hailstorm.

The group’s roughly ninety-minute set was like one long song, but with sometimes subtle, sometimes spectacular rhythmic shifts. Even more impressive than the sheer physicality and grace of the performance was how fresh it sounded. Martinez has been doing this for a long time, but the chemistry in this band is such that everybody knows how to push everybody else’s buttons and drive the jousting to new levels of intensity.

Martinez’s forthcoming album is titled Autentico, and his pianist is in charge of the arrangements, so it was no surprise to see what a polyrhythmic approach he took to his cascades and stabbing chords. Likewise, the group’s bassist would hammer on the strings with the edge of his fist rather than merely fingerpicking. The man in the sunburst shirt who started out on guiro doubled on both trombone and trumpet, often playing all three instruments in the same song. And it was fun to watch Martinez take a turn on bass late in the set: he knows what he’s doing! Likewise, the timbalero took over on congas when Martinez would get up to dance with a pretty girl.