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Pat Martino with Jim Ridl: Nexus

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Nexus is a live recording cut at Philadelphia’s Tin Angel in the mid-1990s. Although the precise date is not noted, that places the gig at most several years after Pat Martino’s triumphant return to playing music, having suffered a brain aneurysm in 1980 that nearly killed him. More than a mere setback, the injury was so debilitating that Martino virtually had to re-learn the guitar, but you’d never know from his precise, adroit navigation of the fretboard that he’d faced such an uphill climb not that long ago. From the opening runs of his self-penned “Recollection,” through to the double-whammy set-closers of Rollins’ “Oleo” and Trane’s “Naima,” Martino wrings soulfulness, drama and fervor from his instrument; his facility is unquestionable but it’s the glow to his playing that ultimately gets you.

Martino’s not doing this by himself. His partner for this duo set is pianist Jim Ridl, a considerably younger musician and longtime regular in Martino’s outfits. Ridl makes for the perfect foil. Like the guitarist he’s quick-witted and sharply attuned. On “Oleo,” he lays back for a good while, thrusting out choppy boogie-ish chords that provide a solid foundation beneath Martino’s unfettered explorations of the theme. When the roles are reversed midway, Ridl’s on top of it, just a bit out but never too far away. On “Interchange” before it (from Martino’s same-titled 1994 release), it’s Ridl who provides the mystery, ideally complementing Martino’s sweet, sassy and often speedy licks.

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