Pat Martino: Consciousness
Martino's pen was first dipped in the ink of saxophonist Willis Jackson, with whom he spent part of the early 1960s, and organist Jack McDuff, in whose group he replaced George Benson, one of the many players to whom Martino is invariably, and simplistically, compared. Shortly after those experiences, Martino became a leader with his El Hombre (1967), the first of several records the twenty-something made for Prestige Records. Many more albums, as well as appearances with other precocious young musicians as diverse as Eric Kloss and Stanley Clarke, followed and, by the 1970s, Martino, shortly after Montgomery's premature passing, became an advanced voice on the instrument, releasing exploratory albums like East! (Prestige, 1968), Baiyina (The Clear Evidence) (Prestige, 1968) and Consciousness (Muse, 1974).
He was involved peripherally in the fusion movement of the 1970s that seemed to sweep up most guitarists, though his approach was tempered by his early experiences with the original electric instrument, the organ. Like many other players of the era, Martino's approach can be conceptually, if not aesthetically, linked to that of another instrumental giant who passed too early, John Coltrane. "I was influenced by John Coltrane primarily because I found it much more profound than the technicalities of his musicality, he says. "I found it much more profound to look closely and think deeply about A Love Supreme (Impulse!, 1964) than about the scalar modes and the time signatures that this was taking place in. I was more interested in the source of where the music brought this individual in terms of consciousness.
The cover of Martino's 1974 album Consciousness finds the guitarist seated in the middle of a pond, looking intently at the camera, almost past it. On the album are pieces by Coltrane and Martino as well as the Eric Kloss-penned title track. The name would be almost prophetic as, a few years later, Martino lost his ability to play after suffering a brain aneurysm. When asked the controversial question if he is frustrated to be defined by that event, Martino responds with typical zen: "It's much easier to find compatibility with all walks of life and individuals in each of these confronting confrontations physical and psychological throughout life. And to be able to recover is something that we share together in general in terms of our species, under these conditions that we are confronted with in terms of crisis.
In fact, when discussing the years of recovery he underwent, during which time he resettled permanently in Philadelphia after decades of absence, Martino distilled the conversation through terminology. "The years of recovery is not the proper way to define it, he says. "It's much more refined. To go back to the past is a loss, to be honest with you, compared to a refinement and a redefinition, in other words a metamorphosis. So it wasn't recovery; it was evolution taking place.
Since Martino's literal and titular return (the 1987 Muse album which saw him reengaged to music fulltime), he has entered a second, almost more successful era of his development. His style is still hyper-charged and his melodic ideas are still challenging but there is an appealing calm that comes of weathering crisis and being stronger for it.
No one can say what Martino's playing would have been like if it had gone uninterrupted and flashes of old licks are more referential than nostalgic. But one statement, probably the most technical of the conversation sums up this fascinating individual and his current state of mind: "Most guitarists study the instrument through formal architecture which is the study of scalar forms, the study of modes, the study of quite a number of things in terms of sight-singing and everything that goes with the seven clefs in terms of the social musical community. ...I've learned it from a completely different dimension. I've learned it as multiplication, when the piano is taught as addition; I see the guitar as multiplication. And I've learned it self-taught from that perspective. So there are a number of things that are quite different in terms of the reduction of the instrument and its technical demands to simplicity as quickly as possible so that it can reside and take its place as being second nature, no longer offering any interference with your intentions. To use it for what purpose it's important to you for.
Pat Martino, Remember: A Tribute to Wes Montgomery (Blue Note, 2005)
Pat Martino, The Maker (Evidence, 1994)
Pat Martino, Consciousness (Muse, 1974)
Pat Martino, Live! (Muse, 1972)
Pat Martino, Baiyina (The Clear Evidence) (Prestige-OJC, 1968)
Willis Jackson, Soul Night Live! (Prestige-Fantasy, 1964)
Kent Phelan, courtesy of Pat Martino