Pat MartinoChris' Jazz Café
It is said that when George Benson first heard Pat Martino perform, he was so astounded that he thought of giving up guitar playing. What he heard was a young kid in Harlem playing like a master. Since that time about forty years ago, Martino has followed a path thatdespite or because of the long journey back from an aneurysm that caused almost complete loss of memoryhas made him a jazz icon. Moreover, Pat continues to call South Philadelphia his home, and his warmth and kindness towards the "locals has brought him an appreciative following in the City of Brotherly Love.
When he performs at local clubs, fans flock to hear him. So Chris' Jazz Café was packed to the gills for his opening set on a Friday nightand I am sure for the rest of the weekend. The atmosphere was electric, and when Pat failed to come on stage for a half an hour after show time, suspense added to the intensity of the occasion. Chris' staff told me that Pat was backstage "practicing! It reminded me of times when John Coltrane would practice in the bathroom between sets, or even while his cohorts were soloing! That is a form of musical passion you are not going to find often. Pat, who once disclosed the odd fact that John Coltrane bought him a hot chocolate when they were in music school together, is powerfully linked to Trane musically and spiritually.
Pat is also indebted to the great Wes Montgomery, who served as a mentor during the early days. Martino's driving rhythm and mind-stretching improvisations derive from numerous sources, but his musicality and lyricism are distinctly influenced by the Montgomery style. Even more so now that he is prepping his new Blue Note CD, Remember: A Tribute to Wes Montgomery
, to be released in April on Blue Note. (Of this album, Pat told me, "As to how it came about, it was chosen as a collection of my favorite recordings by Wes on Riverside Records in his early years. These were the recordings that hypnotized me at the age of 14, when I wished that someday I could play like that! ).
On this evening at Chris,' it sometimes felt as if Wes' ghost were wandering around the room! Martino's use of a deeper, darker tone and his playing of two tunes, "Four on Six, and "Full House, written by Montgomery, and two others, "Groove Yard, by Carl Perkins, and "Impressions, by John Coltrane and recorded by Wes, gave an impression that Pat was "channeling Wes, while at the same time bringing his own originality to the fore. I felt tears come to my eyes at Pat's powerful musical evocation of his beloved mentor.
Martino uses various musicians on his gigs. On this occasion, his sidemen were Steve Varner
on bass, and mainstay Scott Allan Robinson on drums. The pianist was Rick Germanson
, a gifted musician whom I've not heard before. Rick hails from Wisconsin and is currently a regular at various clubs and restaurants in Manhattan. He is a talent to watch. He took some incredible solos, using identifiable classical and jazz pianistic motifs that he then developed through repetition and variation into a virtual kaleidoscope of musical elaborations that were both unique and deeply rooted in jazz tradition. Rick has a way of playing that makes one listen carefully to him. Varner, who began his career on electric bass in Tennessee and has become an in demand upright bassist among top jazz artists, tended to stay modestly in the background, but his artfulness and rhythmic precision were evident. Robinson's strong drumming served as excellent backup for Martino, and he also took a very assertive solo with an Art Blakey feel on Martino's own composition "Mac Tough.
But the evening really belonged to Martino, and deservedly so. He is a serious musician who is always listening, developing and exploring new tacks, yet his style has remained remarkably consistentrooted as it is in the hard bop and rhythm and blues traditions. However, the lyricism and beautiful flourishes that he did on ballads like "Impressions and Miles Davis/Bill Evans' "Blue in Green were most striking in this performance. At certain moments, Martino achieved a haunting, ethereal quality that took the music into realms of spirit, recollection, and life's mysteries. As usual, his technique, whether in the rapid runs or lyrical expressiveness, was astonishing. Photo Credit
Victor L. Schermer