Iridium, January 23, 2002
Pat Martino (eg); Joey DeFrancesco (org); Byron Landham (drm)
Pat Martino is, unfortunately, always discussed in terms of his battle to regain form after a late '70's aneurysm. Forgotten is that Martino has been playing almost as long after his illness as before it. It would be convenient to discuss his work in two distinct periods. Since he relearned guitar by listening to his own records however, his career really has been seamless, if not continuous. He has avoided all the stylistics pitfalls that have made many of his peers painfully inconsistent. His albums do not vary all that much (with the exquisite exception of Baiyina) but since they are all outstanding he cannot be faulted for sticking with what works. To view him as a quasi-tragic figure is to rob him of his significance as the most dependable post-Benson straight innovator.
Martino's fans are not as rabid as those of John McLaughlin or misguided like those of Larry Coryell. Still, he will fill an upscale club such as the Iridium and he plays there frequently and steadfastly. What has become his regular trio, only the drum spot changing, spent a week there at the end of January. Martino has come almost full circle, updating the greasy organ jazz that was his early '60's initiation. While Martino is obviously the main attraction, a different grouping would be welcome as the organ is an inherently limited instrument and DeFrancesco is ultimately unsatisfying as its player. The organ is a crowd pleaser though and he is unlikely to abandon it anytime soon for a more challenging format. Landham, a sessioneer from Philadelphia, is a dependable if unspectacular drummer. Martino's playing is more invigorating when he plays with equals, as when Billy Hart took the drum chair a couple of years back.
The material for this set ranged from newer pieces like "Interchange" and "Turnpike" to gems from older albums such as "Oleo" (Desperado) and "Sunny" (Live). Martino's strength is in his phrasing, which is firmly rooted in the Montgomery tradition but with unpredictable turns that make it uniquely compelling. He may not have actively pursued many of the trends that he has lived through but he is not unaware of them. His guitar playing is thoroughly modern, having moments of wildness and atonality but always with a comforting resolution. He can play as fast as anyone but still manages to sound restrained and classy.
The problem with playing at Iridium is conforming to the jazz club mentality. It is unclear whether Martino yearns to play two hours sets and feels constrained or whether the format of two very short sets works for him. He also rarely strays from the head-solo-solo-head arrangement.
Despite adverts everywhere about the improvements of the club, there seems to be little audible improvement in the sound and the new look lacks the charm of the old location.