Learning to play guitar once is hard enough. Having to do it twice is truly mind-boggling. Pat Martino
, who has done that and more during a career with more twists and turns than an Agatha Christie novel, has vanquished adversity time and again and remains, at age sixty-seven, one of the world's preeminent jazz guitarists. This point of view is Undeniable
on Martino's latest album, recorded live in June 2009 with his working group at Blues Alley in Washington, DC.
That Martino is playing at all is close to a miracle, as surgery for a brain aneurysm in the early '80s saved his life but robbed him of his memory. The one-time wunderkind
went back to the drawing board, relearned how to play his chosen instrument from scratch, and returned to the recording studio in 1987 to produce his first "post-operative" album, The Return
(Muse Records, 1994). Martino has stayed active ever since, returning to his roots with an organ-based group that mirrors his early successes with such legendary lions of the Hammond B-3 as Jack McDuff
, Don Patterson
and Trudy Pitts
(who's featured on Martino's first album as a leader, El Hombre
The B-3 maestro on this date is Tony Monaco
, whose soulful declamations emphatically complement Martino's bluesy peregrinations. They share the bandstand with the always-inventive tenor saxophonist Eric Alexander
, who's never met a groove he couldn't master, and the versatile drummer Jeff "Tain" Watts
, who sizes up the group's disparate parts and welds them securely together. The program consists of half a dozen Martino originals and Thelonious Monk
's venerable "'Round Midnight," on which Martino's guitar has the solo spotlight to itself. The blues predominates, as might be envisioned at a venue named Blues Alley, with everyone down and dirty on "Lean Years," "Goin' to a Meeting," "Double Play," and Midnight Special." There's an easy swing to the other numbers, "Inside Out" (where Martino's guitar and Alexander's tenor open with a charming unison riff) and "Side Effect," an effective finale that features more of Martino's incomparable ad-libbing and yet another incisive statement by Alexander.
For a live recording, sound and balance are exemplary and the audience is responsive but never intrusive. What is most Undeniable
, however, is that Martino remains at the top of his game and leads a quartet that can stand its ground with anyone.