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Alfredo Rodriguez and Pedrito Martinez elevate ideas into enlightening listening / Wall Street Journal

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‘Thriller," one of Michael Jackson's biggest hits, rendered as timbá, set to Cuban dance rhythms? How about Koji Kondo's theme for the popular Nintendo videogame "Super Mario Bros. 3" moving to those beats? When pianist Alfredo Rodriguez created videos along these lines and posted them online, he wasn't just messing around: He was working on something.

It took percussionist Pedrito Martinez, a masterly and individualistic interpreter of Afro-Cuban rhythms, to help Mr. Rodriguez get there. On their new joint release, "Duologue" (Mack Avenue), out Friday, what in lesser hands might have sounded merely clever makes for rewarding, even enlightening, listening. On "Thriller," performed as an instrumental, Mr. Rodriguez turns brief snatches of familiar melody into counterpoint that fuels the groove, overdubbing acoustic and Rhodes electric pianos to create intriguing textures. Mr. Martinez, who uses a hybrid setup combining the hand drums of Cuban percussion with elements of a trap set, staggers rhythms to build and then quickly deconstruct dance beats. The two musicians turn "Super Mario Bros. 3" into timbá yet also hint at the melody's natural affinity with danzón, an elemental Cuban form.

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