Reviews & Opinions

Jazz Road Trip by Gary Finney

Pat MzartinoThe skinny kid from Philadelphia...

In mid-April, the skinny kid from Philadelphia played a three night stand at Nighttown, in Cleveland. Except that he really isn’t a kid any longer. With a full head of white hair, guitarist Pat Martino looks like your uncle Vinnie, who used to take you to the Calabrese Club, when you were a kid, to hear some band, which may have included Dick Bulling or Flip Bilotti. But oh, the music that went down on this night was, as you’d expect, truly world-class.

A world-wide presence.

Martino has been touring the world with his current trio for roughly the past four years. So Martino, Hammond B3 organ player Pat Bianchi and traps man Carmen Intorre know one another very, very well. This familiarity became obvious, right out of the gate, when Martino announced that the opening number would be homage to the guitarist who influenced him to begin his own musical journey: Wes Montgomery. As so the trio tore into a mad-dash rendition of Wes’ “Four On Six,” which established the tone for the evening. The music was going to be rousing and fun, and pity the poor soul whose feet weren’t tapping away.

Having worked regularly with organ combos led by the likes of Willis Jackson, Brother Jack McDuff, Charles Earland and Gene Ludwig, Martino has a demanding ear for organists and Bianchi didn’t disappoint. His well-worn B3 had an appearance that led you to believe it was actually inherited from Jimmy Smith and his twin Leslie speaker cabinets were so beat-up looking, that they gave the impression of having survived the siege at Sarajevo. As Martino’s staccato phrases poured from his Marshall amplifier, Bianchi had his speakers whirling at dizzying speed, while his fingers danced across the organ’s keys like a young girl in a hop-scotch marathon.

Likes his work, and sparks fly.

A man who visibly enjoys what he does, for a living, Martino’s nimble fingers darted up and down his guitar’s fretboard so fast that I swear sparks were flying. Never idle, his dark-toned chords were abundant, yet tasteful, when comping for Bianchi’s soulful excursions. Drummer Intorre was there throughout, providing the required “juice” to fuel the energetic set. This was a night of straight ahead 4/4 and 3/4 rhythms (none of that odd-metered, polyrhythmic stuff here) and the music easily dove into the ear canal of the packed-house audience, which was all a-smile.

The ninety minute set wasn’t all burning romps, however. Varied, as you’d expect from a master of Martino’s caliber, the pace was broken up with a languid, nearly dreamy reading of Miles Davis’ “All Blues” and a lush interpretation of Monk’s “Round Midnight,” where Martino’s extra heavy gauge strings produced a warm sound, in accord with this tune’s beautiful melody. Wayne Shorter’s “Footprints” had its melody’s rhythm altered to the point that it even took me an extra moment to recognize it. Yeah, changing things up so that it stays fresh and interesting for the musicians is what these pros do, and we reap those benefits as well.

Gary Finney at WQLNEncore

Brought back for an encore, by thunderous applause, the appreciative audience voiced their approval when Martino launched the band into Bobby Hebb’s top forty hit from 1966, “Sunny.” A humble man who well knows that he has been given a second chance at life, after a near-fatal aneurysm, Martino graciously greeted all well-wishers after the set, this writer included. Speaking with other fans after the set, it became obvious, to me, that many had also attended Thursday’s performance. Judging the reaction to the Friday night set, it wouldn’t surprise me at all to learn that some of these fans returned, yet again, for third time on Saturday, to hear one of the hippest and most durable guitarists to ever work the scene.

Gary Finney
April 21, 2015