‘The Great Stream’ is the title of one of Pat Martino’s originals, first recorded on the album Live! back in 1972, yet even today this title is an excellent metaphor for the guitarist’s fearless and formidable playing. Performing for two nights in a row in an organ trio at Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Club, Soho earlier last week, Martino’s lines were densely rich in tone, the melodies fluid and winding.
Martino grew up in Philadelphia, PA, a musical melting pot where many jazz greats began their journey, such as John Coltrane, McCoy Tyner, Stan Getz, Philly Joe Jones and Benny Golson, among others. That’s some company to keep, so perhaps it’s of little surprise that he emerged as one of the most exciting guitar players in the 1960s, having already developed a mature style by the age of 20 when he signed to the Prestige record label.
As he kicked off his second night at Ronnie’s with the pile-driving groover ‘Lean Years’, it was clear that Martino has lost none of his talent for furious, daring improvisations, or hard-swinging grooves. In fact, his playing was a beautiful consolidation of all the ideas and motifs that mark the highpoints of his influential career. This was also reflected in the choice of tunes, which mostly comprised classic standards that were brought together by the sheer power of Martino’s musical identity.
A slow but swinging take on ‘Alone Together’came up second and was followed immediately – before anyone had time to breathe – by a feverish ‘Twisted Blues’. Martino laid down one blazing line after another, progressing into octaves á la Wes Montgomery (which was bound to happen on one of Wes’ tunes), while drummer Carmen Intorré pushed the beat forward with inexorable drive. It must be said that as a whole, the trio were very well-matched. Martino’s excellent choice of sidemen was made evident by the thoughtful communication and sense of fun shared between Martino, top organist Pat Bianchi and Carmen Intorré Jr. Bianchi was a great foil for the leader, almost stealing the show several times with his high-energy solos. He really pushed it as he took his lines outside of the changes on the Jack McDuff tribute ‘McTuff’, where Intorré was featured with an extended solo that allowed him to show off his impressive chops.
The standout number had to be ‘The Theme’, a blindingly fast rhythm changes solo vehicle where the audience found themselves clinging on, Martino’s intelligent improvisations flying out at a rate that was almost too quick to comprehend. Yet these were beautiful, logical lines that would have made perfect sense at ballad tempo or otherwise.
At 70 it’s incredible that the Philadelphian guitarist still plays his instrument with the same fiery enthusiasm that he had as a young player making his name on the 1960s East Coast scene. In fact, his current form shows him to be even more self-assured, and one can hear all the idiosyncrasies he has developed along his musical journey, as they come together in a coherent, authoritative way. One could criticise Martino for not being more adventurous, wishing for him to seek out new territory in his later years as, for example, jazz guitar peer Jim Hall did. However, only Martino sounds like Martino, and after years of listening to this master, his playing is still jaw-dropping. There is little that can prepare an audience for the intense nature of his trio performances, let alone the captivating presence of Pat Martino’s distinctive musical personality. Catch him live if you can.
– Marlowe Heywood-Thornes
– Photos by Carl Hyde