Louis "Sabu" Martinez (July 14, 1930 – January 13, 1979) was an American conguero and percussionist. A prominent player in the Cubop movement in the 1950s, Martinez appeared on many important recordings and live performances during that period. Martinez also recorded several Latin jazz albums, now recognized as classics of the genre.
Born in New York City, Martinez made his professional debut in 1941 at age 11. He replaced Chano Pozo in Dizzy Gillespie's orchestra in 1948, and began performing with Benny Goodman's Bebop Orchestra in 1949. Over the next 15 years, Martinez worked with Charlie Parker, Duke Ellington, Count Basie, J. J. Johnson, Horace Silver, Thelonious Monk, Charles Mingus, Mary Lou Williams, Lionel Hampton, Noro Morales, Marcelino Guerra, Esy Morales, the Lecuona Cuban Boys, Miguelito Valdés, Tito Rodríguez, and the Joe Loco Trio. He also worked with vocalists Tony Bennett, Sammy Davis, Jr., and Harry Belafonte.
Martinez first recorded with Art Blakey in 1953, and contributed to his Orgy in Rhythm and Holiday for Skins projects from 1957–58. Martinez became a bandleader in 1957, recording his debut album, Palo Congo, for Blue Note Records. He followed it up with releases on Vik and Alegre Records. Martinez moved to Sweden in 1967 and recorded with the Francy Boland-Kenny Clarke big band, releasing two albums. Subsequently he led the group Burnt Sugar, which was active into the mid '70s. On January 13, 1979, he died in Sweden at the age of 48 of a gastric ulcer.
The final release of conga master Sabu Martinez is an out-in-the-psychedelic-ozone masterpiece. Featuring a politicized Martinez reciting poetry, his own manically exotic percussion ensemble, and a slew of reeds, woodwinds, and brass, this is a heady brew of poetry expressing Latino and indigenous pride, political indictments against the white man, and killer Afro-Cuban jazz. Think of Archie Shepp's Attica Blues or Abbey Lincoln and Max Roach's Freedom Now Suite done by Chano Pozo and you are getting the idea. The layers and layers of congas and djembe drums, the wailing saxophones à la Coltrane and Pharoah Sanders, and swirling flutes played as if they were Eric Dolphy or Prince Lasha, hypnotically elocuting Martinez's poetic recitations -- after he's finished speaking. The title track is the best example of this, though it is a cut without poetry at the top. There's a mesmerizing rhythm that creates a kind of speech between the drums. The saxophones -- and I have no ideas who is playing them because this company in Italy that issued this provides no credits -- act as singers punching into the stratosphere with the cry of birds. Next, in "All Camels Hump," to a frenetic polyrhythmic orchestra of drums -- some heavily reverbed -- a pair of flutes play blues licks back and forth until they are drowned out by electronically distorted percussion. From the camels we move to the "Hotel Alyssa-Souisse, Tunisia." Here a drum kit and a choir of congas go to work as a saxophonist plays alternating lines from R&B records and Sonny Rollins solos! It's a mind-bending experience to think that someone heard music like this in his head and then went out and made it. This record is essential for any fan of Latin jazz, Vanguard jazz, Cuban music, or just plain sound. This guy went out riding the crest of a creative wave of pure genius.
Per Arne Almeflo: Congas Christer Boustedt: Flute, Sax (Alto) Ali Lundbohm: Drums Conny Lundstrom: Congas Christina Martinez: Vocals Johnny Martinez: Congas Margarita Martinez: Vocals Sabu Martinez: Bongos, Composer, Congas, Gong, Percussion, Talking Drum, Timpani Red Mitchell: Bass, Composer Stephen Moller: Drums Peter Perlowsky: Percussion Bernt Rosengren: Piccolo Flute, Sax (Tenor) Bo Svensson: Congas Recorded and produced at Europa Film Studio, Sweden, March 1973