To paraphrase a Tasmanian beer campaign, who is Sam Cutler? Black jeans, studded belt, straggly grey hair and a deep, gravelled vocal timbre that'd do a Shakespearean actor proud, he looks the archetypal, well-worn rockstar. Well, not quite, but he's been 'round 'em. The Floyd. The Dead. Most notably, he was tour manager for The Stones. In any case, it was Sam who, somewhat incongruously, but very articulately, and warmly, introduced Martinez Akustica, at NIDA's Playhouse, in the classy, glassy Parade Theatres complex, on edible Anzac Avenue, downtown Kenso.
Martinez (for short) has many and various manifestations, but at the core is the father-and-sons acoustic guitar trio of Victor, Andro and Dauno; and, at the heart of the trio, Victor. Accordingly, the concert began with a few pieces from Victor, with one foot, rather than both, in the passionate traditions of classical and Spanish guitar, while the other kicks a musical ball across genres and boldly into the avant-garde. Martinez the elder is a study in dedication to technique, but incorporating the utmost in feeling and sympathy for the material at hand, and richly punctuated with momentary, or extended, excursions to rhythmic, harmonic and melodic places others never go, think to go, or have the capacity to go.
The tuxedoed, dapper Victor, with his quaintly questionable command of English, but great sense of linguistically and culturally transcendent humour (a tinge of another Victor, the inestimable Borge), invokes both admiration and affection. Here's the very picture of a man who's, clearly, dedicated his life to the guitar and its complete mastery. No easy feat, at the best of times, but especially not when one is necessarily preoccupied with saving oneself and one's family from the inestimably evil clutches of Augusto Pinochet.
What is particularly striking is Victor's comfort with the contemporaneous: while informed and enriched by the the indelible colours and flavours of tradition, one can almost intuit his restless soul, seeking new, fresh, green musical pastures, to interpolate, fuse and counterpoint. The result is something almost undoubtedly and utterly unique; not a descriptor I use often, or frivolously.
When his sons join him (after much more than hinting at the improvisational excitement to come, as a duo), the atmosphere zings, soaring from vibrancy to, at least sometimes, ecstasy. Their seemingly innate sense of each other, presumably coursing through their very blood, enables supreme confidence, which is only bolstered bt individual and collective virtuosity. They harmonise, out-solo each other (always imaginatively), cut across each other, mimic, tease, pick, strum, bang, belt and otherwise exploit their instruments in ways and to extents by which I'll bet even the guitar afficionados among you would be floored. One quickly comes to expect the unexpected: a breakout Bollywood phrase one moment; gypsy fire, the next.
If Victor is at the very centre of the group (one sense the generosity and reverence of his sons, in placing him there), Andro is arguably the backbone, providing much, or most, of the rhythmic basis for everything they do, as well as having a remarkable facility on the fretboard, and being a very tasteful, discerning and (by Martinez' frenetic internal standards, at least) restrained soloist. He's a fine composer, too.
Dauno, on the other hand, is a dominating and even slightly domineering presence. He may do his best to affect humility, but his completely justifiable pride and the obvious pleasure he takes in showcasing his blinding, riskily (and, thus, thrillingly) experimental approach is impossible to disguise. He's the flash Harry of the three (though they all look vaguely Mafioso, in their showy suits). Sometimes playing acoustic as if it were an electric bass, he's not shy with effects pedals. That could be gimmicky, but it's not at all: having an acoustic instantly transform into an electric, or a Hammond B3 or even steel drums makes for surprise aural attacks that are sensational & scintillating. Or he might be playing the body of the guitar (and his father's, for that matter, with no pause from Victor) as if it was a conga, or cahon. He even dabbles in beatboxing.
And both Andro and Dauno harness and command feedback with a finesse hitherto unknown to this reviewer; as if it's an Andalusian horse, of impeccable pedigree. Well, something like that. But while there are some concessions to entertainment (such as Victor shaking hands with the backline, while still playing with his left hand), it's all about the music.
The final phase of their 'Guitars Alive' set introduces younger brother(?), Fenix Martinez, an astonishingly brilliant and original jazz pianist and keyboardist, veteran percussionist Sunil da Silva and cacophonous cahonist, Kevin Mendoza; all in keen demand, across the Australian musical landscape, and beyond.
These textures bring the moving, shaking, throbbing body of music to a tumultuous orgasm, resulting in shrieks of delight, spontaneous applause and, later, a standing ovation, from the full house. It's not hard to see, or hear, why they've garnered gigs at the upcoming Byron Bay bluesfest, open for Buena Vista Social Club tonight, or the Gypsy Kings, in days. They've already impressed the hell out of and toured with the likes of George Benson, Michael Franti, Diana Krall, Ozomatli, Santana and Angelique Kidjo. Numerous among those have seen fit to heap praise, which means, whether it's Woodford, the Adelaide guitar knees-up, the opera house or a headlining tour of Japan, they're consolidating a burgeoning and bulging rep as Australia's foremost guitarists. Which is saying something, when one's mind runs to, say, expat, John Williams, the Grigoryans, Emmanuels, or Golla, to name a few.
I'll have what they're having. And it doesn't have to be Saturday night. But these are mere words, on an electronic page. Wait till you hear the flurry of notes fly off their fretboards, in astounding analogue.
A final vote of thanks to the publicity-shy Ivan, for superlative sound.
Venue: Parade Playhouse NIDA, 215 Anzac Parade, Kensington
Date: Saturday 27th March
Bookings: Ticketek www.ticketek.com.au