The virtuoso percussionist Paoli Mejias and his quintet erupted Saturday night in the sedate surroundings of The Seasons. No one was hurt in the explosion; quite the opposite, we all left feeling better. Most of the repertoire was from Mejias’s CD Transcend, which features Latin stars Miguel Zenón, Luis Perdomo, Hans Glawinschnig and Antonio Sánchez. The sidemen in Mejias’ road band are less well known outside the hard-core Latin jazz community, but the authority of their work in the pre-Easter concert indicates that their relative obscurity cannot last.
On congas, timbales, bongos and the West African drum called djembe, Mejias was a whirlwind of speed, intensity, tonal subtlety and rhythmic precision. His bongos-piano duet with Yan Carlos Artime on “Hello Nany” exhibited even more concentrated power than on the version in this video, captured at the Heineken Festival in Puerto Rico. With technique and control reflecting years of classical training in his native Cuba, Artime generated excitement throughout the concert. Alto saxophonist Richard Pons matched it, drawing on Charlie Parker, Cannonball Adderley, Ornette Coleman and touches of Bud Shank’s Brazilliance wrapped into a style incorporating lyricism, freedom and structural logic.
Bass guitarist Gabriel Rodriguez and drummer Efraín Martinez provided nonstop energy in the rhythm section and in solo. Martinez’s collaboration with Mejias when the leader moved to timbales was a high point of the evening’s excitement (and volume) and an object lesson of how in the right four hands, drum set and timbales can equal more than the sum of their parts. Here is video of Martinez sharing a solo with Mejias playing the djembe. In the clip, you see the same group that played The Seasons on Saturday night. This disciplined, strenuously rehearsed band of fiery young Puerto Ricans can raise your blood temperature.