Pat Martino Impresses With a Display of Guitar Expertise


August 10 2001

It's been nearly 15 years since guitarist Pat Martino returned to action after a difficult recovery from a debilitating brain aneurysm suffered in 1980. And with a string of highly praised albums and critically received performances during the last decade or so, it's probably time to stop using the episode as a measure of his performance skills.

Martino was a virtuosic player before his brain surgery, and he is a virtuosic player now. Yes, he had to learn to play all over again, a prodigious feat. But what really matters is that he did learn, and that he is probably now even better than he was before 1980.

One thing's for sure: The set he delivered Wednesday night at Catalina Bar & Grill left nothing out. In a program that managed to include only a single slow number, Martino's fingers were flying with ferocious speed. Kicking off with a high-gear, roughhouse ride through Sonny Rollins' "Oleo," he continued with similar romps, including a visceral rendering of Miles Davis' "All Blues," transforming its floating rhythms into a virtual compendium of hard-swinging blues licks.

Martino was thoroughly matched by the protean organ work of the irresistibly swinging Joey DeFrancesco, who is also on the guitarist's latest album, a live set recorded at Yoshi's jazz restaurant in Oakland. Drummer Byron Landham, a frequent DeFrancesco associate, added the perfect percussion support, seamlessly matching his accompaniment to the differing styles of Martino and DeFrancesco.

For the guitarists in the crowd (with veterans John Pisano and Lee Ritenour showing up to check out the action), the set was a stunning display of expertise by one of the instrument's finest technicians.

For those less fascinated by the inside-baseball aspects of 32nd-note arpeggios, the busy-fingered qualities of Martino's offering occasionally became wearying. Layer upon layer of notes can have the counterproductive effect of creating a wall between artist and audience. Still, in those passages in which Martino allowed some light to penetrate his phrases, when he pumped some blues-rich blood into his lines, everything opened up, and he was a marvel to hear.