Ginny’s Supper Club, beneath Red Rooster Restaurant in Harlem, is a perfect place to cheer up and let music carry you. The venue has some of the best sound design I’ve heard, each instrument clear, never drowning vocals. You’re close enough to feel immersed, and/or far enough not to feel aggressed. Specializing in jazz and blues from Bourbon Street to Africa, Ginny’s attracts an enthusiastic crowd of all stripes who want to chill out and/or amp up. I’ve been there twice hearing no one interfere with a show (no obtrusive audience noise). And the southern food is great!
It’s said Cuban music was/is made for dancing. Actively grooving in one’s seat one can’t help but agree. Tonight, towards the end of the set, some audience rises to encouragement, dancing in the aisles. When is the last time you witnessed that?! Responding to infectious, rhythmic patterns – clave – spirits rise.
Pedrito Martinez and his band play mambo, soukous (African influenced) rhumba, salsa, jazz- crosscurrents of dynamic music during which the lead himself seems to channel and erupt rhythm. Traditionally repeated choruses go on and on becoming hypnotic chant. Where whirling dervishes calm, these intoxicating numbers stir-up. It’s what I imagine surfing feels like – a wave swells to robust crest, bursts forth without boundary, and crashes, leaving peaks, eddies, echoes. Only unexpected pauses or Morse-Code-like passages belie the simile.
Watching Martinez play four visible congas, three visible cymbals (with hands) and a snare captivates. Even an elbow is employed. Strength and precision animate muscular, tattooed arms. Intermittently rising to gyrate above a stool (Elvis had nothing on this artist) or leave percussion to dance, first in proximity, then across the staging area, he’s as graceful as anyone out of Alvin Ailey.
To one side, Jhair Sala plays bongos (higher pitch), conga, and preeminent cow bell, without which sound wouldn’t be authentic. Exhibiting as much joy as Martinez, he’s like a boyhood school friend at the playground. Musical symbiosis is palpable. Behind, stands (bounces) bassist Sebastian Natal, providing ballast with both resonant string work and measured hitting of his instrument. To the other side, seemingly more serious keyboardist Erick Peralta, contributes a more jazz oriented take, occasionally sounding as if playing a different genre.
Three of the four musicians sing, with Martinez’ ardor-filled tenor on top. Periodically raising his hands, he pilots clapping. The crowd is enthused but respectful, waiting for cues to make noise. At one point, this multi-talented band switches instruments like the Mad Tea Party in Alice. They seem to be flexing, rather than bragging, exercising other muscles. Camaraderie reigns.
Of tonight’s six long arrangements, only “Tuve Una Revelación” (I had a revelation) was written by Martinez. Others include such as “La Habana me queda Chiquita” (No one knows Havana like I do), “Buscando Guayaba” (Looking for Guava) and “Pastorita” (a proper name), apparently a Cuban classic. If only he’d share English lyrics or at least explain content! This is one of only two caveats. The other is to add a quieter, more reflective selection to the generous 1 ½ hour set.
The show was terrific fun, its artists highly skilled bona fides of Cuban exuberance.
The Food: My companion and I shared a Farm Greens Remix Salad with ricotta salata, pears, golden raisins, spiced pumpkin seeds. Mustard vinaigrette added subtle piquancy to fresh greens. We both then chose the superb Hot Honey Yardbird – light and dark meat fried chicken with garlic mash, braised succotash, dirty gravy. Crunchy crust was flavorful and light (no grease here), chicken tender; mash excellent, vegetable savory.
Two sampled side dishes were: Mac & Greens – macaroni (just the right consistency) flavored by both cheddar and Parmesan, subtly mixed with collard greens and Everyday I’m Brusselin’: brussel sprouts with maple dressing (inspired), picked onions, herbs (I could’ve made a meal of this!) Both were imaginative and tasty. Liberal servings found me taking chicken home while my companion packed up his macaroni. I didn’t drink, but was told house cocktail, Brownstoner (nutmeg infused bourbon, St. Germain, cherry heering) rises above the fray.
Photos by Stephen Hanks
Opening: Jhair Sala, Pedrito Martinez, Sebastian Natal, Erick Peralta
Grammy-nominated percussionist and vocalist, Pedrito Martinez, is in residency at Ginny’s, playing every Thursday night when not touring. Pedrito has played or recorded with with Wynton Marsalis, Paul Simon, Eddie Palmieri, Paquito D’Rivera, Bruce Springsteen and Sting, and has contributed to over 75 albums.
Pedrito Martinez at Ginny’s Supper Club
Pedrito Martinez- percussion, lead vocals
Sebastian Natal- bass, vocals
Jhair Sala- percussion, vocals
Ginny’s Supper Club
310 Lenox Avenue