Newtown Theatre opened its doors for something completely different last Sunday evening: Martinez Akustica; as the name implies, an acoustic (guitar) ensemble of constantly varying dimensions, comprised of two generations of the Martinez family. Victor is the patriarch. All eyes look to him, with his playing firmly rooted in the traditions of the Spanish instrument, but not inflexibly so. Indeed, he is the inspiration for the more avant-gard aspects of the band's performance, like transforming the humble guitar into a one-man percussive orchestra. When this is married with beatboxing, the effect is spectacular and metronomically accurate, as is their timing in general. Which is just as well, given they spend a lot of time moving to the very edges of rehearsed arrangements, deliberately trying to throw each other, so it seems. But they never lose their focus, which makes the experience as thrilling as, say, the most daring imaginable trapeze, since there is the ever-present danger of a tumble.
Victor is the first on stage, to solo beautifully, with Fantasy Of A Song, his very extrapolated take on one of my all-time favourite songs, You Are The Sunshine Of My Life. The whole piece seems to be a reverential homage to and meditation on it. Attired to the nines, in tux and tie, one shouldn't be deluded by Martinez Sr.'s modest, old-school demeanour, for there's nothing modest or old-school about his playing, which breaks out of a romantic tune into a rhythmic frenzy, without warning. There's nothing predictable or same-same about Martinez' playing. And this penchant for shock and awe has been handed down from father to sons. The eldest appear first: Andro and Dauno.
Andro is the pulse and backbone of their ensemble playing, with a similarly disarming humility on stage as his father. A quiet achiever. When he takes the lead, apart from a little wah-wah, he focuses in on the acoustic capabilities of his instrument. And the melodic ones. His playing isn't merely tasty, but tasteful; mature, restrained and divinely sophisticated. His tux is worn on the inside. He is more musician than technician, with a refined sensibility.
Dauno is, by comparison, the spiritual lovechild of Elvis and Jimi. All are well-dressed, with sensational shoes, but Dauno takes the sartorial cake, with his piratical earrings, pinstripe suit and cool-as-a-cuke glasses. He's more liberal with pedals, reinventing his acoustic guitar as an organ, or other indiscriminately psychedelic, synthesised sound-maker. He would've been right at home in the 60s, even if his look is uber-21C. And he plays like some coke-fuelled fiend, a mad scientist savant, astonishing, by the moment, with his wild virtuosity.
The two youngest members of MA, teasingly dubbed 'the babies', by Andro, are no less proficient; Fenix is breathtaking, in the effortless way of Tedeschi, or Hunt, running up-and-down electric keys like an Olympic pianist. With decades in front of him, it's hard to imagine him ever being or playing any better than he is now.
Banel, on semi-acoustic, just returned from a tour of Japan, reflects Andro's sensitivity in his luscious technique which, like his cohorts', includes bass-style fingering, with nary a plectrum in sight.
If all this sounds like a gushing rave, so be it. While there's certainly light and shade in their selections, the repertoire almost doesn't matter: if they were to improvise on Baa-Baa Black Sheep I'm confident it would still be consummate.
Nonetheless, Victor's aforementioned bidding-opening tribute to the oft-forgotten compositional greatness of Stevie Wonder is a standout, with a beautiful Blue Bossa to follow, from the core trio.
New Timba is the title track of their newish LP (if one may be excused for such passe terminology), followed by Andro and Dauno's duet, really more of a healthily competitive play-off, in Puro Latino.
The babies take their turn at same, showing off their penchant for jazz stylings to great effect; blindfolded, your ears would swear they been finding their way around the genre form a lot more years than they've candles on their cakes. Leathery, old souls, perhaps. (New shoes, though.)
Victor later deviates from the plan to lovingly dedicate a song to Chile and her recent misfortunes, via a classic folk song: Si Vas Para Chile. It's particularly moving, in his delicate hands.
But no words, no matter how poetically wielded, will ever do more than marginal justice to the once-in-a-lifetime (if that) phenomenon that is Martinez. For a single member of any family to be as prodigiously gifted as any one of the many Martinezes is musical manna. For a whole fraternity of musicians of this rarefied calibre to be found in one clan is a miracle.
Venue: Newtown Theatre | Cnr Bray and King Streets, Newtown
Date: Sunday 24 October, 2010