I do wish for my own sake that Zoho, even if they couldn’t manage to print the titles and personnel on the removable inlay—rather than advertising other products—would at least list personnels in a manner more easy of reference. There’s a chain of names with the info that:
Senor X is on tracks 1,3 and 7
and Mr. Z on 5, 8, 9 and 10,
et cetera, 1, 3 and 7…
I groan as I re-scan the list trying to see exactly who is on which title: if it’s track 7 it must be… and the eye zigzags: quite a problem on this set by four different groups with varrying and overlapping personnel each time; and not organised in blocks like 1-4, 5-6, but programmed singly .
The above does capture something of my feelings, as the music, by which I mean the first track, “Refugee”, took a little time to get going. This title track has too much clatter, guitar overdub, and everything’s going but going nowhere until, with its somewhat burpy sound, the Cameroonian Richard Bona’s electric bass sets out a line free of all the interrupting noise. Hector Martignon does seem to make a break for it then, showing his class as a pianist, but through the rattlebattle of too much hardware.
Things didn’t have to improve, but they did. Zoho’s occasional tendency to overproduce wanes mercifully, and things are much better on “99 MacDougall”, the dynamic level of percussion receding appropriately for the leader, soloing on Fender Rhodes, then doing exceptionally nice conventional piano timbre things in support of Edgardo Miranda’s guitar; and then switching back, or switching on again, behind the somewhat pinched sound of John Benitez’ bass.
Martignon’s tentative singing debut on record shows a rather small voice on “Observatory”, and it can’t have been easy to maintain a melody over what I presume was an instrumental performance prepared earlier. The vocal’s not bad, but doesn’t add much, considering how hard the man would need to have toiled to find a singable line over the complex and very pretty harmonies. Mark Whitfield’s guitar work is very good on this one, and Whitfield again solos tellingly, late on in “Beauty Sleep”, which Martignon says is based on the “cutting contests” in 1930s Harlem (Willie the Lion Smith and Donald Lambert among the pianists). There’s an interlude of slow stride piano duet between Martignon and his teacher Kenny Barron, on acoustic and electric pianos respectively, and Barron uses the less acoustic sound in his solo, with Tain Watts and Eddie Gomez on drums and (upright acoustic!) bass respectively.
Gomez is honored and featured on “Eddie’s Ready”, audibly vocalising as his fingers work the oracle. He was the man who replaced the late Scott LaFaro in the famous Bill Evans Trio that LaFaro’s bass-playing shaped. Gomez was technically more accomplished and an argument survives as to whether LaFaro (killed in a car wreck) delivered his own conception better. It is nice to have the pretty sound of especially the Gomez bass and indeed the merry dynamics of Tain Watts on this one. Rather than four bands, four sessions, and an intention to “reprise four different moments in the continuing evolution of Martignon’s band, Foreign Affair,” I might well have been happier with rather more of that group.
Mark Whitfield’s guitar opens “You Won’t Forget Me” with some suggestion of the Belgian Gypsy influence on Latin Jazz. Much as I admire Dafnis Prieto as a drummer and all-round musician, there again seem to be a few explicit accents too many on this one. Matt Garrison manages to sound a bit nicer in what the leader’s remarks rightly commend as a highly inventive electric bass solo.
Bona and Willard Dyson come back from “Refugee” for the closer, with Martignon on electric piano in a composition by Don Grolnick, who had an earlier, much less interesting musical career before death made his new and very distinguished life in jazz far too short a one. Edgardo Miranda seems actually to have played guitar along with the other musicians on the date, while Justin Quinn seems to have been overdubbed. There is some very nice walking bass from Bona behind the sometimes block-chord electric pianism of Martignon on this nine and a half minute G-minor blues. Bona solos in a flight of the basso profundo bumble bee, and the percussionist Samuel Torres is somewhere there among the tradings of fours toward the end of this one. Grolnick was outstanding, and Hector Martignon can be praised for pulling out this number, and doing such interesting things with it.
Yeah, the man is not a pianist to be neglected. I do believe his range as pianist is (as a footnote on the inlay claims) greater than most, and I would like to hear more of him in the future.