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Pat Martino at Birdland

Nick Catalano By

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The legendary musical power of Pat Martino was on display at Birdland on April 4, 2013, in all its glory. The myths that have arisen about this formidable guitarist will have new layers when the jazz cognoscenti begin commenting on his latest feats.

Martino's burning swing, long the trademark of his improvisational wizardry, acquired added zip, with seminal saxophonist Eric Alexander joining him on the frontline of his latest quartet. The sound of the guitar and tenor articulating the heads of the tunes is rare and compelling. And the admixture of Pat Bianchi's Hammond B-3 allows the group to perform without a bass—another longstanding feature of Martino aggregations ever since he stepped on stage as a 16 year old at Small's Paradise in Harlem .Since then, the guitarist has continually preferred to engage in his aesthetically laden conversations with a litany of organ giants including Jack McDuff, Willis Jackson, Don Patterson, Trudy Pitts (who appeared on Marti no's 1967 Prestige debut as a leader, El Hombre), Joey DeFrancesco ,and Tony Monaco.

The group began with a trio of Martino compositions : "Turnpike"; "Inside Out"; and "Dead Center." Listening to the vast cornucopia of improvisational designs and ideas articulated with his famous staccato attack is always a wonder, and on this night the Birdland audience (consisting almost entirely of Chilean tourists) was in rapt attention. Martino specializes in high- speed chases on the bandstand and his drummer Carmen Intorre certainly had a thorough workout. Bianchi's languorous soloing contrasted nicely with Martino and Alexander's clipped excursions, and the eight-bar trades in most of the tunes excitingly intensified the dialogues.

The group concluded the set with Sonny Rollins's "Oleo," which was serendipitous for me because the last time I had heard Martino perform this tune was before he had his aneuryism in 1980. It is one of the most amazing stories in music history because after life-saving brain surgery which eradicated his memory, Martino had to entirely relearn the guitar—which he did by listening to his own records.

These days Pat Martino continues apace, conducting jazz clinics, headlining in leading jazz clubs and festivals, and planning new recordings. His talent is a marvel for the ages and fans everywhere will want to catch his latest creations.

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