It's been nearly twenty years since Pat Martino's comeback from a near-fatal brain aneurysm. In that time he's re-established himself as one of the jazz world's premier guitarists, a technically advanced post bop player who combines forward-thinking musical ideas with native Philly grit; think Pat Metheny with more soul. Think Tank
, as the name suggests, finds Martino at his most cerebral, which has its pros and cons. The title track, for example, is a blues of sorts built on an equation based on the letters of John Coltrane's name, which may sound like an exercise for a composition class, but manages to hold together pretty well organically. Coltrane, a Philadelphia mentor of Martino's, is a recurring reference on the album, both indirectly in Martino's intensely spiritual and intellectual approach to the music, and directly on the funk-based original "Phineas Trane as well as on an extended romp through Coltrane's "Africa.
Martino is backed by a lineup that includes heavyweights on every instrument: Joe Lovano on tenor sax, Gonzalo Rubalcaba on piano, Christian McBride on bass and Lewis Nash on drums. And while many all star lineups fail to live up to their promise, this one mostly comes through. All the musicians have moments of magic, especially Rubalcaba, the Cuban-born virtuoso who seems to have outgrown his youthful habit of simply playing as many notes as he can as quickly as he can. He shows welcome restraint here, especially on the ballad "Sun on My Hands, where he and Martino play off each other with beauty and subtlety. Martino himself is much more subdued than in the past, offering harmonically complex solos that challenge listeners but retain enough recognizable blues and bop roots to be accessible.
If there's any complaint about Think Tank,
it's that it lacks some of the flat-out fire of Martino's 2001 Grammy-nominated Live at Yoshi's
, a groove-laden organ trio summit with Joey De Francesco and Billy Hart. Martino may overthink things a bit this time around, but it's a serious album from a serious artist and well-worth checking out.
This review originally appeared in AllAboutJazz-New York
Personnel: Joe Lovano - Tenor Sax;
Pat Martino - Guitar;
Gonzalo Rubalcaba - Piano;
Lewis Nash - Drums;
Christian McBride - Bass.