Pat Martino: Philadelphia, PA, November 25, 2011
Chris' Jazz Café
November 25, 2011
Sir Edmund Hillary, when asked why he scaled Mt. Everest, replied, "Because it is there." A similar explanation could be given for why guitarist Pat Martino fans go to hear him repeatedly: because he is therein the Here and Now!, as the title of his 2011 Backbeat Books autobiography, co-written with Bill Milkowski, proclaims. Fans know they are going to get that rarefied mountaintop feeling from his startling electricity, mastery of the guitar and deep sensitivity to his music, his players, and his audiences. There is just nothing like him. It's an event.
Those who have been following Martino over the years may have only one question: "What's he into now?" He has always been evolving, both before and after the disruption caused by his brain aneurysm and amnesia. He's a seeker, but with an almost Spartan discipline and consistency. Listening to a recording from 1976 (We'll Be Together Again (Muse) and from 2006 (Remember: A Tribute to Wes Montgomery (Blue Note), there's the same strong attack, absolute concentration, and heavy blues influence. Yet within that framework, he's ranged during his career from soul jazz and hard bop to psychedelic, post bop and beyond in his influences, cohorts, and approaches. But it's always Martino, immediately recognizable. Sowhat's he going to do this time with that Martino magic?
While frequently on tour these days, Martino touches down periodically at his South Philly digs with his wife and love of his life, Ayako. On most of these stays, he graces the city of his birth with live performances, often at one of his favorite haunts, Chris' Jazz Café. It's a good opportunity to hear what he is into, "here and now."
During his set at the Café, the answer came right away. Martino returned to his roots, beginning with his original, "Lean Years," now one of many guitar standards that he has composed and which originally appeared over forty years ago on Strings (Prestige, 1967), and pops up again on Undeniable: Live at Blues Alley (HighNote, 2011)). Coming out onstage, and taking a moment to coordinate with his sidemen for the eveningHammond B3 organist Pat Bianchi and drummer Carmen IntorreMartino leaned into the piece like a Lamborghini in heat, delivering his trademark stunning runs and chord changes with metronomic precision.
On this particular occasion, it became clear from the early origins of the tunes he selected, as well as the slightly darkened, smoky sound and organ accompaniment, that Martino was looking back to his work with Willis Jackson, Jack McDuff, and the soul jazz heroes of the time. This retrospective turn perhaps began with Remember: A Tribute to Wes Montgomery (Blue Note, 2006), followed by the 2008 film Martino Unstrung (Sixteen Films), and now the new book about his life. It all makes sense from the standpoint of a man who forgot everything about himself and has been recouping memories and facts about himself ever since. It also fits with Martino's lifelong search for integrity and wholeness, as he returns philosophically to the true grit days and nights in Harlem, when the music was gut-level real and unsullied.
All the numbers in the set, with the exception of the 1998 song, "The Island," looked back to those early days or before. The set proceeded with Miles Davis' "All Blues," Benny Goodman's "Seven Come Eleven" (originally performed by Charlie Christian); Thelonious Monk's "'Round Midnight," Montgomery's "Full House," "The Island" and "Twisted Blues," another Montgomery tune, from 1965. It was a search for origins that came over mostly very well in this intimate night club setting. Bianchi and Intorre, neither of whom works often with Martino, came in from New York for the event, appropriately supporting Martino rather than upstaging him, which no-one can do in any case. Intorre, who has worked with many of Martino's own cohorts, provided letter-perfect drumming for the guitarist. Bianchi, who came up in the postmodern jazz era, struggled to match wits with Martino, but gave excellent comping. The playing was indeed highly evocative of Martino's days in Harlem and shortly thereafter. The audience at Chris' seemed very satisfied with the result.
Martino glowed in his rendition of "'Round Midnight." His ballad playing is remarkable; whether on Monk's tune, Milt Jackson's "Heartstrings," from Remember, or the standard "What Are You Doing the Rest of Your Life," from the guitarist's Footprints, (Muse, 1972), Martino realizes the underlying structure and meaning of a ballad like no other. It's one thing for which he deserves more recognition than he has received.
So, where is Martino going to go next, musically speaking? It's always a mystery. He will tell you that even he doesn't know. Martino is an erudite autodidact, intimately familiar with synthesizers and classical and contemporary music, for example. So he might suddenly leap into the future, or maybe do something with a full orchestral ensemble. Or maybe he'll do an album honoring his late idol and father-figure Les Paul. Who can say? What is clear is that he will always be himself, his playing will always be quickly recognizable, and he will always stand on that mountaintop above the crowd.