Philip Booth reviews guitar great Pat Martino's new live album
Nearly 25 years after his recording comeback and a decade after his last in-concert album, 2001’s Live at Yoshi’s, Pat Martino turns in a set that has the revered guitarist reprising the bluesy organ-based jazz that launched his career in the ’60s. This time he’s caught on the East Coast, at Washington, D.C.’s Blues Alley, for a sometimes mellow, sometimes rambunctious set featuring his band at the time: frequent collaborator Tony Monaco on B3 organ, tenor saxophonist Eric Alexander and drummer Jeff “Tain” Watts. Martino’s melding of heady bop lines and fat grooves remains as engaging as ever.
The school of soul jazz is in session on several occasions here, particularly on a pair of blues shuffles, both of which bring to mind the music Martino heard and played during his early career stint in Harlem. The aptly titled “Goin’ to a Meeting” stretches out to 10 minutes with the help of an earthy, yelping romp by Alexander, who often steals limelight from the leader. The tuneful tenor-and-guitar unison melody of “Midnight Special” is followed by a conversant, staccato-chopped organ solo and an adventuresome turn from Martino that has the guitarist unleashing long series of notes and making use of a repeated phrase.
The quartet opens with the uptempo swing tune “Lean Years,” the setting for a blistering introductory display of fretboard prowess by Martino. The swing is the thing, too, on the laidback “Inside Out” and bright closer “Side Effect.” Rounding things out is the sole tune not penned by Martino, an inviting take on “’Round Midnight.” The guitarist, joined only by Monaco and a quiet, brushes-bearing Watts, imbues the melody and his inquisitive solo with a certain warmth, and the guitarist’s use of octaves recalls his long-ago acquaintance and influence Wes Montgomery.