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Pat Martino: At One with His Favorite Toy

By Published: April 24, 2006

Martino is a musician of the moment, a key element of jazz. The guitar is the tool he used to communicate, and he remains fascinated with it, just as he was as a child when he would sit down and figure out how it worked. The same wide-eyed wonderment he must have had when he moved from Philadelphia to Harlem at the age of 15 to find out more about the music and join in the cooperative of the people who were making the important sounds of the time—sounds that are still the cornerstone of what is played today.

In fact, conversation was politefully disrupted for a time in order for the musician to answer his door. An obviously happy Martino returns. "I was waiting for this guitar to come in from Gibson. That's what it was. FedEx. It's very exciting. It's like a little boy with a new toy," he says with a chuckle.

That type of élan is refreshing. It just happens to be the spirit of the music that can be heard on his Wes Montgomery tribute, a cooking album of songs from the Wes songbook.

Martino met the guitar legend when he was fourteen, introduced in a club by his father, who sang in Philly nightclubs. "At that particular age, I had not as of yet experienced participating as a professional in the craft. I still remained within a dreamlike state of perception when it came to the definitive meaning of people in general. Wes Montgomery was the warmest person I had met until that time. So I wasn't really moved as a professional musician, in terms of his artistic presence—although I was completely overwhelmed by his dexterity. I was moved more than anything by the warmth in this particular individual. And that opened up a completely different motif in upcoming definitions of what was important in life."

He calls the tribute "a very honest one" and music "a pool of respect for a great artist. It was literally like a lake, where those particular topics reside within. If you go swim in that lake, it's gonna really swing. Those tunes were hard core Wes Montgomery prior to his marketing success."

Some feel that Montgomery left the realm of mainstream jazz for more commercial music. Martino doesn't see that as a bad thing in that case. He feels Montgomery pulled off things like Beatles covers, "wonderfully, I really do. I have preferences with regard to my own tastes. I think to run the gamut is respectful in itself with regard to how many ways his creative ingenuity provided success at all times."

No commercialism here, however. The band—David Kikoski, piano; John Patitucci, bass; Scott Allan Robinson, drums; Danny Sadownick, percussion—cooks from beginning to end. The groove is happening at all times, whether swinging like mad or on the two ballads.

"Yeah. We were very excited about it. I think it had something to do with respect, due to the fact that the motif was based upon authenticity. That had a great deal to do with the effect it had on each of us—to try to remain as concrete as possible with regard to reanimating that particular segment of our culture."

The disc kicks in right from the start with "Four On Six" which highlights the deep swing of the album. Not only is Martino nimble and hip, but Kikoski is locked in, tearing it up. The pianist is one of the heroes of the album, his playing superb throughout, light and nimble, yet ballsy and groovin.' Like Martino. And the rhythm sections digs and lays it out for the both the soloists and the whole musical concept. "Twisted Blues" cooks. "West Coast Blues" is like a ride along the Pacific highway. "If I Should Lose You" gets a ballad treatment that is dirge like in tempo, but never maudlin. Martino squeezes out notes that hang in the air and deliver the heartfelt sentiment of the song without anything mawkish. The whole thing is a gas.

Martino says there will be some touring done in support of the disc this year.

He says the recording experience was profound, part of "ongoing re-ordering of my lack of retainment-type of memory after the operations" which, in turn, "demanded that I go back and evaluate and analyze as much as possible what I do remember. One of the things that has remained profound is the wishes and dreams of a child and whether or not these have been brought to fruition.

"One of the first things that I remember when it came to Wes Montgomery was the addiction that took place as a child being exposed to such art; such an individual and artist. I sat in front of my father's record player on the floor, overwhelmed with interest in trying to reproduce what I heard coming from the speaker on my favorite toy, which was the guitar. It still is my favorite toy. So I sat there with my favorite toy and played with it, intensely addicted to the process. That's what this album brought me back to. Something I wanted to do as a child was to be able to do what I heard coming from the speakers."

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