Thursday, December 3, 2015

Pat Martino Trio offers a smooth-working display of chops and soul at the Jazz Kitchen

As a young guitarist, Pat Martino sought to broaden his experience by learning from Harlem
Pat Martino's calm demeanor rides on top of virtuosity and oomph.
musicians, building upon his prodigy status as a Philadelphian coming up in that city's fertile jazz period of the late 1950s.

Now 71, and as nimble and imaginative as ever, Martino brought his current trio to the Jazz Kitchen for two sets Wednesday night. He has a style steeped in funk and soul idioms that is not trapped within them. He strings together phrases that both match and challenge each other, always finding clarity and logic in his solos. To my ears, he is as free of cliches as anyone on his instrument.

In the first set, he never departed from the common ground he's found with two players a generation younger: organist Pat Bianchi and drummer Carmen Intorre.  The trio put a firm stamp on a generous hour of playing with its encore: Bobby Hebb's "Sunny," heavily accented and with a wealth of blues touchstones. Martino's solo embraced flashes of virtuosity without being chops-driven. A brief coda stirred up extra excitement through Intorre's effusive drumming.

Martino reached deep into his formative period with an original, "Lean Years," that showed the influence of bebop on his style. Neat exchanges with Intorre were shared by Bianchi and Martino. The genre's privileging of sheer speed held no terrors for the trio.

The sensitive design of the set was evident in the next song, "'Round Midnight," where Martino's reflective playing let in space between phrases like a singer. It also focused on octaves, providing a texture derived from one of his heroes, Indianapolis' Wes Montgomery. Bianchi's solo was typical of his shrewdness in amplifying the mood established by his boss with something of his own on the Hammond C-3.

A more recent Martino original, "Black Glass," showed how well the trio can manage rhythmic diversity and a certain harmonic adventurousness that the guitarist highlighted with more chordal playing than usual. That followed the opening number, a blues-with-bridge in a rolling 3-to-the-bar meter, that was unannounced but I'm pretty sure was Montgomery's "Full House."

Until the trio returned for the encore, the last scheduled piece was Sonny Rollins' "Oleo," featuring Bianchi's best solo of the set. He had laid down a drone background that added tension before the theme got fully under way. Later, the normally restrained but fully engaged drummer got a chance to show what he could do in the spotlight. Not surprisingly, however, the performance mostly indicated the seamless rapport of the three musicians, keyed to Martino's never slacking off from comping responsibility and remaining free of the timbral trickery that tempts many younger guitarists.