Some musical relationships last a lifetime while others simply serve as milestones along the way, conjuring up questions of what might have transpired had certain musicians continued to work in tandem. Pittsburgh’s Gene Ludwig had evolved beyond a Jimmy Smith apostle into a creative, individual B-3 organist when the 30-year-old joined forces with 23-year-old Pat Martino in 1967. Even at that age, Martino already had a reputation as a fierce guitarist. With Ludwig’s friend Randy Gelispie on drums, the trio lasted a mere two years, recording one album on which they supported Sonny Stitt. This new release comes from an undated live performance in Louisville, Ky., and it reveals a group that was every bit as powerful as the groups that inspired the trio’s sound.
The organ-trio template is clear from the get-go—groovy pedal point intros kick off many of the tracks—but the trio wasn’t merely replicating the Blue Note catalog. Ludwig avoids B-3 grandstanding in favor of a balance of soul and melodic invention, coming closer to Larry Young in terms of vision. Martino astounds, alternating between rapid picking (his clarity in “Close Your Eyes” is jaw-dropping) and Montgomery-inspired octaves. Gelispie too plays with a fire that pushes the soloists on “Who Can I Turn To,” which sheds its Broadway origins here. A newly discovered Martino original, “Colossus,” lives up to its name.
The recording quality is, as you’d expect, unpolished, with guitar louder in the mix than organ. But any shortcomings only add to the “greasy” feel that Bill Milkowski reiterates in the liner notes.