Ridl & Martino: Duets at Tin Angel
“ The set that I attended was a world-class event, a remarkable display of musical virtuosity and musicality. ”
On Saturday evening, December 13, 2003, Philadelphia was blessed to have two international jazz greats perform at a small, local venue, The Tin Angel . Of course, Pat Martino is a Philadelphian, and Jim Ridl lives near Princeton, so in that sense they are “local,” but the set that I attended was a world-class event, a remarkable display of musical virtuosity and musicality that I, for one, will never forget. I was enraptured and electrified by what I heard. It reminded me of the incredible, ground breaking Village Vanguard sets of the 1960’s.
Nearly everyone around Philly knows Martino, the guitar icon who made a miraculous recovery from a brain aneurysm and total amnesia, not only on a personal level, but in terms of restoring and renewing his amazing skills as a guitarist. Jim Ridl is a more “laid back,” modest sort of personality, who, in his tailored sport jacket, looks a bit like a business executive on a night out, but at the piano, he is a totally focused, driving, creative musician who complements Martino perfectly. The two seemed to inspire each other to an outpouring of new ideas at every moment. I asked Pat how he came in contact with Jim, and he told me: “My association with Jim began in 1995 at The Café Borgia, where he was playing with a local group. I was impressed, and I have been ever since.”
As a “Duet,” “Alone, Together,” to quote one of the tunes they performed, Martino and Ridl are quickly becoming a new force on the jazz scene. While staying well within traditional jazz and blues parameters, they are able to achieve a conjoint virtuosity and improvisational creativity that is going to set a new standard for collaboration among jazz artists. They peformed for almost two hours, sometimes at breakneck clips, more contemplatively on the ballads, without a moment of clichés, boredom, or lack of ideas. (If these guys were athletes, they’d be checked for use of steroids!) Their style was consistent from beginning to end, and each tune sustained an internal consistency that leaned towards compositional brilliance. Plus- and this, in my experience is rarely achieved- they functioned wholly as a unit, that is, virtually as a single instrument, with no intrusion of “ego” or “trademark” turns of phrase. I’ve got to give Ridl credit for this, because Martino’s style is so uniquely his own. The two were perfectly “attuned” to one another.
Another aspect that impressed me was Martino’s lyricism. So much of what has been written about him emphasizes his exceptional technique and unique sound. But, in addition, he is able to make the electric guitar “sing” such that at times it sounds like an acoustic instrument. And his interpretations of ballads such as “Send in the Clowns” and “Alone Together” had a haunting depth and beauty. These are facets of his playing to which listeners ought to pay more attention. They reflect, in particular, Martino’s connection to Wes Montgomery.
Another interesting feature of Martino’s playing is his use of the right, pick and strum, hand. Much of his virtuosity and interpretive nuances comes from that side of the guitar. His right hand is as dexterous and imaginative as his left. He used it to great effect when accompanying Ridl on the latter’s solos, where he achieved a dark, muted backdrop of rapidly pulsating rhythm that let Ridl shine while creating a contrasting mood, as if something were brewing underneath Ridl’s fast-paced pianism.
In this set they performed the following tunes:
- Catch (Opus 2) (Pat Martino)
- Interchange ( Pat Martino)
- Recollection (Pat Martino)
- Send In The Clowns (Stephen Sondheim)
- Earthlings (Joe Ford)
- Alone Together (Dietz and Schwartz)
- Fall (Wayne Shorter)
- Turnpike (Pat Martino)
- These Are Soulful Days (Cal Massey)
- The Great Stream (Pat Martino)
Pat volunteered to the audience that “The Great Stream” was first performed at Gerde’s Folk City in Greenwich Village in the 1970’s. Similarly, the Tin Angel features folk and rock, with an occasional jazz group. The Village connection is significant for Pat, since he lived there for a period of time. It is even more significant for jazz, of course. Billie Holiday frequently performed at Café Society near Sheridan Square. The Village Vanguard, The Village Gate, the Blue Note, Café Bohemia, The Five Spot, and Sweet Basil, all located there, have, at various times, been the site of bright jazz moments and some enduring live recordings. For this writer, the Village is a place of wonderful memories of music and life.