Review of Pat Martino's "Live at Yoshi's"

Michael Toland
High Bias

Live at Yoshi's
(Blue Note)

Outside of a cadre of jazz aficionados and guitar magazine geeks, Pat Martino is better known for his admittedly inspiring comeback story than for his music. Having literally forgotten how to play after a nasty brain aneurysm in 1980, he taught himself to pick again by listening to his old recordings. He's now as good as he ever was, if not better, setting standards and making would-be ax gods' jaws drop as in days of yore. 

Need proof?  Listen to Live at Yoshi's, a sort of life in music drawing on all facets of Martino's illustrious career. Joined on stage by young Hammond B-3 lion Joey DeFrancesco and veteran drummer Billy Hart, Martino plays a relaxed set of mostly originals in a style somewhere between hard bop and soul jazz. The six-stringer is known for fiery solos and lightning fast runs, and those are here in abundance, ably supported by DeFrancesco's sympathetic comping and Hart's consistently swinging pulse. 

But Martino's sense of melody is such that even his most burning solos never go too far out, always keeping the tune in mind, if not necessarily in easy reach. His bandmates stay right in the pocket with him at all times. Funky takes on Sonny Rollins' "Oleo" and his own "Recollection" and luscious slithers through the Miles Davis ballads "Blue in Green" and "All Blues" will bring a goofy grin to any jazz fans' face. "El Hombre," one of his signature tunes, is simply astounding, bursting with excitement but never getting out of
control; it's a model of virtuosity held in check by taste. 

Powerful song sense, a tight group interplay and Martino's peak-of-his-powers performance make Live at Yoshi's a triumph.