This is a rare case of tribute tendered by a musician with more than just heartfelt sentiments of admiration or awe. It means a lot musically, not least because Pat Martino can bring a lot of Wes Montgomery into his playing without silently drowning actual music-making. It’s a case of laying stress on the sides of his own playing in which there’s already something of Montgomery, finding colour and timing and intonation, seeking some aspects of repertoire; even making a fairly bold use of some devices, phrases, or techniques of the maestro who alas did not live to grow old. Lots of major musicians study their antecedents, but originality is less to do with trying to sound different than with having something to say.
As long as you’re Pat Martino, or near his class as a musician, you can deliver even a bold imitation of Montgomery’s playing of octaves, and sound very like Montgomery, without crass mimicry or sounding in the least mechanical. Martino can produce stronger reminiscences of Montgomery than most people, in pretty well every respect, without loss of feeling. He still makes music, in a normal way that many people would like to and some professionals don’t always try to, here enhanced by echoing Montgomery, rather than rendered cold and spectral by imitating a recording.
One thing I really like about this set is the full-blooded style of which the world was short-changed during the last of Montgomery’s too few years as a front-line professional. Essentially, the great Wes came from regional obscurity, was discovered by serious labels, and then with a considerable reputation for doing lots of things, he was singled out to do not very many of them, in the mode wise people call serious listening unnecessary.
He could phrase melodies remarkably, with a beautiful sound on electric guitar (which I can hear in my head and recognise when it reappears in others’ playing: Martino performs with a slightly darker hue). This is to say nothing about what Montgomery did by way of technical innovation, which in a musician of his class meant not working out new devices so much as producing new and seriously musical results, sometimes by new means. Touring took it out of him, and he died of a coronary and left money to his family.
I prefer to remember a video of Montgomery, Johnny Griffin, and other members of the outstanding Kenny Clarke-Francy Boland big band from a European TV date long ago, Montgomery just jamming in rehearsal and playing music as alive as “Road Song” and “West Coast Blues” manage to be here. Not so many people could play all the notes of “Full House” with such flair as is plain here. Even fewer could manage the urgency.
The pianist gets to play unaccompanied, or rather we get to hear him so, in a few bars opening “If I Should Lose You”, and without any forfeit of tenderness this ballad is full-bodied music from the start, weight in the string bass—real resonance—and a guitarist selecting notes rather than playing runs. It ain’t simply pretty; the notes are held back a little, muffled and with a kind of throb. The emphasis is on expression rather than making plain how many notes per minute can be produced by the guitarist’s fingers. Dave Kikoski’s piano solo is all it should be, and after the lyricism of that ballad there’s a pensive melancholy to the opening of the following, and final track, “Unit Seven”. Earlier, Kikoski’s not shy of contributing very lively support, and really gets to crack in on “Twisted Blues”, with John Patitucci doing the sort of things on bass which his younger would-be emulators often don’t take seriously enough. “S.K.J.” is as good an example as any of the ensemble quality, with Scott Allan Robinson on drums, Danny Sadownick percussion. Patitucci has an interesting note-bending, quiet but almost brutally phrased solo on that swinger.
From the very opening of the opening track, “Four on Six”, the tightness of the ensemble is plain. Kikoski there unfortunately goes in for too many modal scales in the course of a solo they just wind up cluttering with superfluous passagework. Maybe he got too excited? Not a major cavil, nor dishonourable. But the whole recording demonstrates the empathy of the guitarist with the percussion, the resourcefulness of a player who can drop out for a couple of bars, and let everybody hear better what interesting things keep happening behind him.