Troy Savings Bank Music Hall
April 27, 2007
By J Hunter
I have a terrible, terrible memory nowadays, Pat Martino admitted, by way of explaining that he was not sure if this was his first appearance at Troy Savings Bank Music Hall. Hey, it's a major miracle Martino is appearing anywhere.
30 years ago, the hollow-body guitarist had a severe brain aneurism; the resulting surgery saved his life, but had no recollection of his career to that point, and no idea how to play the instrument that made him a successor to Wes Montgomery and a contemporary of Les Paul. Martino had to learn how to do everything all over again - including how to walk - and was disabled for an extended period. The fact that Martino is mobile is a testament to his strength and dedication; the fact that his fingers fly up and down the fretboard of his black Gibson is downright wondrous.
Here to promote Remember: A Tribute to Wes Montgomery (Blue Note, 2006), Martino and his fine young quartet served up two outstanding sets of standards, Martino originals, and material associated with Montgomery (still considered to be the gold standard of hollow-body jazz guitar). Kicking off with MacTough - a rocking ode to former employer Jack MacDuff - Martino let us all know that prisoners were not going to be taken on this evening. By the time he wound up a joyous encore of Bobby Hebb's Sunny, he'd already received one well-deserved standing ovation, and he got another one on the way out.
Martino has chops guitarists half his age would sell their siblings for. He transitioned from the melody to the first solo on Montgomery's Full House like a guy telling a story who takes time out to dissect one detail, and his blistering version of Montgomery's Four Ought Six showed us why this tune inspired Martino to learn to play guitar. His take on Miles' Blue in Green was beautifully blissful, and the supercharged original The Visit simply soared around The Hall. With all that, Martino has such reserve, it's scary. If Charlie Hunter or John Scofield played those same licks in their respective styles, the roof would come off wherever they were playing.
As it usually happens with electric groups, it took some time for the sound to reconcile with The Hall's unique acoustics. This made keyboardist Rick Germanson's contributions inaudible for a good chunk of the first set; things did eventually resolve themselves, and Germanson's swinging piano was an equal partner in the mix by the time Martino closed the second set with Sonny Rollins' Oleo. Scott Allan Robinson's drum kit was behind sound shields - a good call, since a few of his solos could have wiped out the first three rows if his kit hadn't been muted. Robinson also made a great foundational tandem with bassist Paul Gill.
As it turns out, Martino's recall is pretty good: he prefaced Full House with a story of how he turned Les Paul on to Montgomery while Martino and Paul were working at the legendary Harlem nightclub Small's Paradise (Now known as 'IHOP'
). Martino and Paul went to see Montgomery at Count Basie's a few blocks away; Martino left Paul at the bar, transfixed. Martino went back at the end of the night, and by the time Basie's was empty, there were only five people standing in front of the club: Montgomery, Martino, Paul, Grant Green, and George Benson. Memories are made of this.
Pat Martino is a living legend that refused to leave us in his prime, as Montgomery did. There isn't a guitarist around who could do a better job enlivening Montgomery's legacy. But, simply by showing up every night and kicking out the jams, Martino adds a new page to his own legacy by being an inspiration - both to new generations of guitarists, and to anyone who faces a hill that seems impossible to climb.
J HUNTER is a former announcer/producer for radio stations in the Capital Region and the Bay Area, including KSJS/San Jose (where he was Assistant Music Director/Jazz programming), Q104 WQBK/Albany, and WSSV/Saratoga. He has also written music and theatre reviews for the Glens Falls Chronicle. He currently resides in Clifton Park.