A duo featuring virtuosic Cuban artists — pianist Alfredo Rodriguez and percussionist Pedrito Martinez, both of whom double as singers — would seem to promise an explosion of heady Afro-Cuban music. And, at times, that’s what Duologue
delivers, with the two following the stylistic guideposts cemented decades ago by the pioneering Cuban fusion group Irakere and such timba
groups as Los Van Van and NG La Banda. But this album incorporates a wider range of influences than those present on most Latin jazz dates, including just enough pop flavor to catch the ear of listeners who might think the Guajira
is a variation of rum punch. Hence the prevalence of rippling, romantic pianistics, percussion accents that smolder rather than spit fire and vocals as sweet as fresh coconut milk.
The role of Quincy Jones as a co-producer is evident in the inclusion of fare like Michael Jackson’s “Thriller,” seemingly an odd choice for an Afro-Cuban makeover. The interpretation, however, produces a pleasant session surprise, and the arrangement even includes a brief quote from “El Cumbanchero,” a 1940s-era hit by Puerto Rican composer Rafael Hernandez. The title tune is another example of how the duo fulfills expectations as Rodriguez launches a volley of Cuban keyboard comping styles and Martinez adds a flurry of robust percussion inflections. The album’s most typical performance is the Rodriguez composition “El Punto Cubano,” which is notable for Martinez’s evocative bongo licks and rustic vocal take.
Elsewhere, a panorama of global references are on display. “Flor” recalls 1980s Brazilian fusion innovations while “Mariposa” taps a dreamy New Age vibe. On the whole, Duologue
offers a well-played variety of styles not typically explored on Latin-grounded sessions.—Mark Holston