Pat Martino Trio at Chris' Jazz Cafe

Victor L. Schermer By

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Pat Martino Trio
Chris' Jazz Café
Philadelphia, PA
November 29, 2014

Over the years, Pat Martino's guitar artistry has been powerful and consistent, characterized by his precision, strong attack, uncanny mastery of the instrument, and hard rhythmic style honed in his apprenticeship with saxophonist Willis "Gator" Jackson and organist Jack McDuff. Frequently on the road, and just returned from a tour of South America, Martino delivered on all these qualities in the first Saturday night set of his annual two day stint at Chris' Jazz Café in his hometown of Philadelphia. But to a long-time Martino aficionado there was a subtle difference in the way that he interpreted the music, something difficult to define and unclear as to whether it represents a recent shift in his approach, or was idiosyncratic to this particular set.

The difference was noticeable when his current trio with organist Pat Bianchi and drummer Carmen Intorre kicked off the set with two Martino staples, his own "Lean Years" and Wayne Shorter's "Footprints," at a slightly slower pace than usual. This holding back of the tempo served the purpose of close coordination with Bianchi, with the two doubling up on some of the melodic lines and tight comping for one another during solos. Then, with the Charlie Christian tune, "Seven Come Eleven," which was significant in the transition from swing to bebop guitar, Martino seemed to be introspecting about what he could do with the phrasing to own it for his own purposes, a slight-of-hand deconstruction of the original. A hauntingly beautiful version of Miles Davis/Bill Evans' "Blue in Green," from the iconic album Kind of Blue (Columbia, 1959) unfolded in the usual theme and variations form, but Martino developed a subtle and profound parabolic trajectory that was superimposed on the more typical recap of choruses. This was not how he usually develops a song, and it afforded it an unusual depth and richness.

"Four on Six" is a Wes Montgomery signature tune that Martino included in the album Remember: A Tribute to Wes Montgomery (Blue Note, 2006), and it initially came across in the style of Montgomery, but there were intrusions of repetitive phrases and staccato haltings of the melody line that gave the piece an experimental twist. The next two tunes revealed some of the reason for those hyperbolic flavorings. Dave Brubeck's "In Your Own Sweet Way" is a beautiful song whose parsimony reflects the influence of Brubeck's classical mentor, Darius Milhauld. Martino is magnificent with ballads, and Brubeck would have loved this rendition, which was free of the clichés that are commonly introduced into his song. And Sonny Rollins' "Oleo" has rhythmic jolts that reflected Rollins' unique phraseology. Rollins would surely dig the fidelity, momentum, and brilliance with which Martino, with strong input by Bianchi and Intorre, took the set out with "Oleo" in a glorious way.

The overall impression was that Martino was trying to find his way into a "cooler" mode of playing with references to a variety of styles. It remains to be seen whether the attitudinal changes in this performance signal a shift in Martino's interest, or whether they were forays that happen to all great musicians from time to time.

Personnel: Pat Martino: guitar; Pat Bianchi: organ; Carmen Intorre: drums.

Set List: Lean Years (Martino); Footprints (Shorter); Seven Come Eleven (Goodman/Christian); Blue In Green (Davis/Evans); Four On Six (Montgomery); In Your Own Sweet Way (Brubeck); Oleo (Rollins).

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