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Pat Martino: Mission Accomplished

Douglas Payne By

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The title refers to 32 Jazz's successful release of Pat Martino's entire Muse and Warner Bros. catalog between 1972 and 1996. The result is four two-fers, two single discs and several compilations showcasing one of the finest, most consistent jazz guitarists of the last quarter century.

Mission Accomplished is one of the two-fers that combines Martino's final two Muse releases, 1994's outstanding Interchange and 1996's too-disconcertingly insubstantial Nightwings.

Both discs provide similarities in sound and style, due mainly to the presence of Martino, James Ridl (piano) and Marc Johnson (bass) to each session. In both cases, Martino displays an utterly perfected fluidity and gracefulness of purpose. So, it was wise of 32 to combine these two sessions. But the earlier session is clearly superior.

In fact, one could argue that Interchange is an neglected post-bop classic. Martino's ability to craft perfect, toe-tapping melodies rivals only Freddie Hubbard's. Like Hubbard, Martino's compositions serve as excellent launch pads for beautiful, creative playing, especially noticeable on the up-tempo numbers, "Catch," "Recollection" and "Just For Then," a sort of "Impressions" crossed with "It Don't Mean A Thing." Martino has never played better or with more verve, wit and energy than he does here. He no longer displays the need to prove his stupendous skill. Talent of this magnitude doesn't need to. Footprints (1972) and We'll Be Together Again (1976) are probably better representations of Martino's guitar abilities. But Interchange is his best showcase as an effective musician, leader and jazz composer. Altogether, a most beautiful session well worth investigating.

Nightwings, on the other hand, is just the opposite. It sounds similar to Interchange — but less so. Of course, Martino had at this point expressed discontent to Muse, suggesting he be allowed to attempt a more "serious" (non-jazz) direction, which, to my knowledge, he has yet to pursue. Muse wanted more of what he'd done for years. What we get is, perhaps, Martino's least convincing album ever. Maybe the guitarist meant it to be that way. Bob Kenmotsu's tenor sax mimics Martino's leads here, and he's a rather too-supple, too-mellifluous player to matter. He adds nothing to Martino's rather lackluster compositions. Even the guitarist feels lazy and apathetic as he scales some of the most mundane changes he's ever charted. Certainly this disc has its share of admirers. I'm not convinced; mostly because Martino does little here that's persuasive.

So how does one reconcile a mission that's equal parts delicious and dull? Well, 32 Jazz has made it easy, packaging these two discs in one inexpensive and attractive set (the odd cover suggesting some sort of sci-fi Asian restaurant). Get it for the sheer joy of Interchange. As a bonus - that still costs less than a new retro-bop CD — listen to Nightwings simply to hear how a master sounds on an off day.

Tracks: Interchange : Catch; Black Grass; Interchange; Just For Then; Blue In Green; Recollection. Nightwings : Draw Me Down; Portrait; Villa Hermosa; I Sing The Blues Every Night; A Love Within; Nightwings.

Players:Pat Martino: guitar; James Ridl: piano; Bob Kenmotsu: sax; Marc Johnson: bass; Bill Stewart, Sherman Ferguson: drums.

Title: Mission Accomplished | Year Released: 1999 | Record Label: 32 Records

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