Hector Martignon: Refugee

A few star guests, and an amazing jazz and latin pianist when he gets going. He'll do better in the future, but he does well here.

Hector Martignon


Contributors: Artist Name: Hector Martignon, Name for index: Martignon, Hector, Artist URL: ?????, Title: Refugee, Cover
Label: Zoho
US Release Date: 2007-05-08
UK Release Date: Available as import

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.


In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

Editor's Note: Originally published 30 July 2014.

10. “Bedlam in Belgium”
(Flick of the Switch, 1983)

This is a massively underrated barnstormer from the boys off the much-maligned (unfairly, I think) Flick of the Switch. The album was missing Mutt Lange, but the Youngs did have his very capable engineer, Tony Platt, as co-producer in the studio at Compass Point in the Bahamas. Tony’s a real pro. I think he did a perfectly fine job on this album, which also features the slamming “Nervous Shakedown”.

But what I find most interesting about “Bedlam in Belgium” is that it’s based on a fracas that broke out on stage in Kontich, Belgium, in 1977, involving Bon Scott, the rest of the band, and the local authorities. AC/DC had violated a noise curfew and things got hairy.

Yet Brian Johnson, more than half a decade later, wrote the lyrics with such insight; almost as if he was the one getting walloped by the Belgian police: He gave me a crack in the back with his gun / Hurt me so bad I could feel the blood run. Cracking lyrics, Bon-esque. Unfortunately for Brian, he was removed from lyric-writing duties from The Razors Edge (1990) onwards. All songs up to and including 2008’s Black Ice are Young/Young compositions.

Who’ll be writing the songs on the new album AC/DC has been working on in Vancouver? AC/DC fans can’t wait to hear them. Nor can I.

9. “Spellbound”
(For Those About to Rock We Salute You, 1981)

"Spellbound" really stands as a lasting monument to the genius of Mutt Lange, a man whose finely tuned ear and attention to detail filed the rough edges of Vanda & Young–era AC/DC and turned this commercially underperforming band for Atlantic Records into one of the biggest in the world. On “Spellbound” AC/DC sounds truly majestic. Lange just amplifies their natural power an extra notch. It’s crisp sounding, laden with dynamics and just awesome when Angus launches into his solo.

“Spellbound” is the closer on For Those About to Rock We Salute You, the last album Lange did with AC/DC, so chronologically it’s a significant song; it marks the end of an important era. For Those About to Rock was an unhappy experience for a lot of people. There was a lot of blood being spilled behind the scenes. It went to number one in the US but commercially was a massive disappointment after the performance of Back in Black. Much of the blame lies at the feet of Atlantic Records, then under Doug Morris, who made the decision to exhume an album they’d shelved in 1976, Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap, and release it in-between Back in Black and For Those About to Rock.

In the book Phil Carson, who signed AC/DC to Atlantic, calls it “one of the most crass decisions ever made by a record-company executive” and believes it undermined sales of For Those About to Rock.

8. “Down Payment Blues”
(Powerage, 1978)

This is one of the best songs off Powerage -- perhaps the high point of Bon Scott as a lyricist -- but also significant for its connection to “Back in Black”. There are key lines in it: Sitting in my Cadillac / Listening to my radio / Suzy baby get on in / Tell me where she wanna go / I'm living in a nightmare / She's looking like a wet dream / I got myself a Cadillac / But I can't afford the gasoline.

Bon loved writing about Cadillacs. He mentions them in “Rocker” off the Australian version of TNT and the international release of Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap: Got slicked black hair / Skin tight jeans / Cadillac car and a teenage dream.

Then you get to “Back in Black”. Bon’s dead but the lyrics have this spooky connection to “Down Payment Blues”: Back in the back / Of a Cadillac / Number one with a bullet, I’m a power pack.

Why was Brian singing about riding around in Cadillacs? He’d just joined AC/DC, wasn’t earning a lot and was on his best behavior. Bon had a reason to be singing about money. He was writing all the songs and just had a breakthrough album with Highway to Hell. Which begs the question: Could Bon also have written or part written the lyrics to “Back in Black”?

Bon’s late mother Isa said in 2006: “The last time we saw him was Christmas ’79, two months before he died. [Bon] told me he was working on the Back in Black album and that that was going to be it; that he was going to be a millionaire.”

7. “You Shook Me All Night Long”
(Back in Black, 1980)

Everyone knows and loves this song; it’s played everywhere. Shania Twain and Celine Dion have covered it. It’s one of AC/DC’s standbys. But who wrote it?

Former Mötley Crüe manager Doug Thaler is convinced Bon Scott, who’d passed away before the album was recorded, being replaced by Brian Johnson, wrote the lyrics. In fact he told me, “You can bet your life that Bon Scott wrote the lyrics to ‘You Shook Me All Night Long’.” That’s a pretty strong statement from a guy who used to be AC/DC’s American booking agent and knew the band intimately. I look into this claim in some depth in the book and draw my own conclusions.

I’m convinced Bon wrote it. In my opinion only Bon would have written a line like “She told me to come but I was already there.” Brian never matched the verve or wit of Bon in his lyrics and it’s why I think so much of AC/DC’s mid-'80s output suffers even when the guitar work of the Youngs was as good as it ever was.

But what’s also really interesting about this song in light of the recent hullabaloo over Taurus and Led Zeppelin is how much the opening guitar riff sounds similar to Head East’s “Never Been Any Reason”. I didn’t know a hell of a lot about Head East before I started working on this book, but came across “Never Been Any Reason” in the process of doing my research and was blown away when I heard it for the first time. AC/DC opened for Head East in Milwaukee in 1977. So the two bands crossed paths.

6. “Rock ’N’ Roll Damnation”
(Powerage, 1978)

It’s hard to get my head around the fact Mick Wall, the British rock writer and author of AC/DC: Hell Ain’t a Bad Place to Be, called this “a two-bit piece of head-bopping guff.” Not sure what track he was listening to when he wrote that -- maybe he was having a bad day -- but for me it’s one of the last of AC/DC’s classic boogie tracks and probably the best.

Mark Evans loves it almost as much as he loves “Highway to Hell". It has everything you want in an AC/DC song plus shakers, tambourines and handclaps, a real Motown touch that George Young and Harry Vanda brought to bear on the recording. They did something similar with the John Paul Young hit “Love Is in the Air”. Percussion was an underlying feature of many early AC/DC songs. This one really grooves. I never get tired of hearing it.

“Rock ’n’ Roll Damnation” was AC/DC’s first hit in the UK charts and a lot of the credit has to go to Michael Klenfner, best known as the fat guy with the moustache who stops Jake and Elwood backstage in the final reel of The Blues Brothers and offers them a recording contract. He was senior vice-president at Atlantic at the time, and insisted the band go back and record a radio-worthy single after they delivered the first cut of Powerage to New York.

Michael was a real champion of AC/DC behind the scenes at Atlantic, and never got the recognition he was due while he was still alive (he passed away in 2009). He ended up having a falling out with Atlantic president Jerry Greenberg over the choice of producer for Highway to Hell and got fired. But it was Klenfner who arguably did more for the band than anyone else while they were at Atlantic. His story deserves to be known by the fans.

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