It’s been a lot of fun to dig back into Pat Metheny’s early catalog as SER’s Mark Saleski recently commenced his weekly song-by-song PM retrospective, (Cross the) Heartland. As he dissected Metheny’s tunes from his 1976 debut Bright Size Life, I get astonished all over again at the deceptive intricacy of his compositions that still sound fresh and cutting edge today, because when he wrote these songs he was likely only in his teens (he was 21 when he recorded Life).
I didn’t immediately make that kind of connection of Pedro Martins’ own debut record Dreaming High to Bright Size Life. Oh yeah, Dreaming High has those light, sunny melody, long-form compositions, and great musicianship that seeks to tell a musical story, not show off chops for the sake of showing off chops. This fully formed piece of work from a new guitar talent out of Brazil has been a delightful listen all on its own. It wasn’t until later that I discovered that this is a record that has been conceived, arranged and recorded, with a quartet, by Martins when he was sixteen years old.
Martins, as one might suspect, grew up immersed in music; his father was musician, and Pedro ended up mastering all kind of instruments, like bass, drums and piano before settling on guitar as his main tool for expression. Bolstering his raw talent with formal studies at Brazil’s School of Music, Martins was already making a name for himself in his country’s jazz scene by the time he had reached his teens, and it became clear by the time he turned sixteen, he was ready to make a record.
That record, Dreaming High doesn’t hit you on the head with its brilliance, it seeps in for a more lasting impression. Martins enlists all-acoustic help from Felipe Viegas (piano), Josué Lopez (tenor sax), André Vasconcellos (acoustic bass) and Alex Buck (drums). Extra assistance comes from Kiko Freitas on drums for a couple of tracks and album producer Daniel Santiago adds a second guitar for three of them.
The first thing apparent about Martins’ musical conception isn’t his guitar but how he gets the entire band involved in bringing his compositions to life, transforming them from sheet music to living, breathing organisms. Nearly every song begins with Martins doubling up on his agile, sinuous lines usually with Lopez, setting bright markers to his complex but highly melodic harmonic development that makes it easier to embrace whether you’re listening closely or just soaking in the sunny vibes.
Examples of this approach abound, but “Ciclo Da Vida,” which means “Life Cycle,” exemplifies it well: A sax/guitar unison is used to state an extended, long-form melody, and the rhythm well integrated in harmony in what at first appears to be a ballad; they are inseparable. But Martins doesn’t introduce a harmonic idea at the beginning, go off into solos and regurgitates the head later. Instead, he moves onto other, connected motifs and references earlier ideas later. In this case, “Ciclo” switches to a Brazilian pulse for bridge, with chord progressions just as complex and melodic as before, and then onto another one.
Thus, Martins presents his songs as narratives, traversing from one chapter to the next. That isn’t to say there isn’t any improvising going on, but it’s done in the context of the material. When Martins has the occasion to display his advanced facility at guitar, it’s the right time to do it, as on “Para o Amor Que Ficou” (For Love That Lasts), his guitar speaking a language similar to some of the highly regarded guitarists working in NYC these days like Ben Monder, Gilad Hekselman and Adam Rogers. He shows off hot, Kurt Rosenwinkel kind of chops on “Terra Prometida” (Promised Land) but he has too much maturity already to linger on to the point where it becomes showy, and soon makes way for Lopez’s own invested solo on the sax.
Other peaks can be found on the first track “Anos Luz” (Light Years), which opens with a spidery counter harmony bass line like Chick Corea loves to do, as Martins unisons with Lopez on the theme and the rhythm section alternates between swing and shuffle. Lopez then doubles up with Viegas while Martins solos with an effortless, airy touch. “Nas Nuvens” (In The Clouds)” is so delectable in its little twists and turns, floating around a group of three or four connected patterns, from major to minor key and back.
It might be hyperbole at this point to call Pedro Martins Brazil’s answer to that other “PM,” but Dreaming High firmly puts him on a path to earn that distinction.
Dreaming High goes on sale August 20 by Adventure Music.