Pat Martino: Live at Yoshi's

Maurice Bottomley

Martino, whose career stretches right back to supplying rock 'n' roll licks for the likes of Chubby Checker and Bobby Darin, first made his mark playing with some of the '60s' best known organ combos. Even the most nostalgically inclined will have to admit that this current line-up is the equal to any of them. But remember -- PLAY IT LOUD.

Pat Martino

Live at Yoshi's

Label: Blue Note
US Release Date: 2001-06-21

In popular music the word "survivor" is attached to almost anyone who gets past one-hit wonder status. In guitarist Pat Martino's case the word carries a newer and truer meaning. A brain aneurysm in the early '80s meant that he lost all memory regarding music. Not only was he unaware of his status as a highly regarded figure in the jazz world but he had no knowledge whatsoever of the instrument that had made him famous. The road back was hard and painstaking. So when I tell you that the 57-year-old Philadelphian is in better form than ever it is no mere platitude about a veteran performer.

Hammond-guitar groups are open to criticism but at their finest have a particular raw power. To which I would add that if this is not the best example currently to be heard then I want to hear the superior act. Live at Yoshi's seems to me to embody all the virtues and very few of the vices of a public, if not a highbrow, favourite among jazz set-ups. It is not completely free of the much publicised generic limitations but the upbeat numbers swing like an axe and the slower tunes have that smoky, late-night atmosphere that remind you why you got into jazz in the first place.

Let's deal with the deficiencies first. This is no "envelope pushing" session. If you can't stand Jack McDuff, Charles Earland, Jimmy McGriff or Richard "Groove" Holmes then you will hate organist Joey DeFrancesco, who is as crucial to this recording as Martino. Secondly, if the guitar/Hammond format appears too restrictive in the extreme facets, I suggest you take heed of the following. Think of this as much as a rhythm and blues form as a jazz one. Now, noone's going to tell me that electric guitar and organ aren't apt vehicles for the blues. On an even more basic level, the secret to enjoying outings like this is turn the volume UP. Only then will the barrage of sound sweep you away as it should. One of the reasons why people love this music live but get tired of it on the stereo is that they treat it as background music or as a normal acoustic trio. Totally Wrong. This is music to annoy the neighbours with.

Actually the uniformity of both Hammond and jazz guitar has been greatly exaggerated. Lonnie Smith sounds no more like Charles Earland than Bud Powell sounds like Oscar Peterson. For the record, DeFrancesco-Martino is more Earland-meets-an-amplified-Wes Montgomery than anything else. Drummer Billy Hart also adds an energy and a presence you don't often get from percussionists within this genre. All three are totally fired up and if audience response is any gauge it must have been some night. From a breakneck take on Sonny Rollins' "Oleo" to the complete abandonment of the long closing track ("Catch") everything pumps along like a steam engine. Introspective this is not -- even the moody tunes seem bursting to move up a gear -- and occasionally do indeed break out into something more motorised.

Martino's ability to improvise and trade licks at pace constantly impresses and his comrades lose little in comparison. Apart from the Rollins cover I would highlight "EL Hombre" as a tasty example of funk on the run. This is a truly turbo-charged ride and the one point where the mighty Hammond will not be bested -- DeFrancesco leaves all in his wake. Overwhelming in the most exhilarating way. Martino then playfully applies the brakes, executing some of the most melodic of runs before a brief spurt to the finish.

"All Blues" and "Blue in Green" may seem lame choices for the down-tempo pieces but are, as it happens, inspired. "All Blues" in particular is so well handled that in future I can see it becoming a certainty in the Hammond repertoire. "Welcome to a Prayer" also deserves mention. Very "Round Midnight"-ish -- it shows the group off nicely and Martino's fluid style to perfection. There is actually quite a chunk of the 80 minutes running time devoted to the bluesy ballad side of the street but such is the exuberance of the more fiery cuts that they seem like brief pauses for breath.

There is a hint of the much-trumpeted sameness between numbers. Eighty minutes is a fairly exhausting amount of time, whatever the variety of instruments. However, just when the interest starts to drift, Martino et al. crank things up a gear or veer off into a delightful side road and you are fully alert once more. I am biased as I love this type of music -- partly because of its lowly status, I must admit. If you share that affection, this comes out second best only to seeing the trio live. Even for the more skeptical, purely at the level of technique it can hardly fail to register. Fans of the electric guitar in any of its manifestations will marvel at the ease with which Martino organises his solos and makes the changes. Hopefully, once caught by that, the passion and the groove will take over. If not, I'd stick to chamber music.

Martino, whose career stretches right back to supplying rock 'n' roll licks for the likes of Chubby Checker and Bobby Darin, first made his mark playing with some of the '60s' best known organ combos. Even the most nostalgically inclined will have to admit that this current line-up is the equal to any of them. But remember -- PLAY IT LOUD.

Cover down, pray through: Bob Dylan's underrated, misunderstood "gospel years" are meticulously examined in this welcome new installment of his Bootleg series.

"How long can I listen to the lies of prejudice?
How long can I stay drunk on fear out in the wilderness?"
-- Bob Dylan, "When He Returns," 1979

Bob Dylan's career has been full of unpredictable left turns that have left fans confused, enthralled, enraged – sometimes all at once. At the 1965 Newport Folk Festival – accompanied by a pickup band featuring Mike Bloomfield and Al Kooper – he performed his first electric set, upsetting his folk base. His 1970 album Self Portrait is full of jazzy crooning and head-scratching covers. In 1978, his self-directed, four-hour film Renaldo and Clara was released, combining concert footage with surreal, often tedious dramatic scenes. Dylan seemed to thrive on testing the patience of his fans.

Keep reading... Show less

Inane Political Discourse, or, Alan Partridge's Parody Politics

Publicity photo of Steve Coogan courtesy of Sky Consumer Comms

That the political class now finds itself relegated to accidental Alan Partridge territory along the with rest of the twits and twats that comprise English popular culture is meaningful, to say the least.

"I evolve, I don't…revolve."
-- Alan Partridge

Alan Partridge began as a gleeful media parody in the early '90s but thanks to Brexit he has evolved into a political one. In print and online, the hopelessly awkward radio DJ from Norwich, England, is used as an emblem for incompetent leadership and code word for inane political discourse.

Keep reading... Show less

The show is called Crazy Ex-Girlfriend largely because it spends time dismantling the structure that finds it easier to write women off as "crazy" than to offer them help or understanding.

In the latest episode of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, the CW networks' highly acclaimed musical drama, the shows protagonist, Rebecca Bunch (Rachel Bloom), is at an all time low. Within the course of five episodes she has been left at the altar, cruelly lashed out at her friends, abandoned a promising new relationship, walked out of her job, had her murky mental health history exposed, slept with her ex boyfriend's ill father, and been forced to retreat to her notoriously prickly mother's (Tovah Feldshuh) uncaring guardianship. It's to the show's credit that none of this feels remotely ridiculous or emotionally manipulative.

Keep reading... Show less

To be a migrant worker in America is to relearn the basic skills of living. Imagine doing that in your 60s and 70s, when you thought you'd be retired.

Nomadland: Surviving America in the Twenty-First Century

Publisher: W. W. Norton
Author: Jessica Bruder
Publication date: 2017-09

There's been much hand-wringing over the state of the American economy in recent years. After the 2008 financial crisis upended middle-class families, we now live with regular media reports of recovery and growth -- as well as rising inequality and decreased social mobility. We ponder what kind of future we're creating for our children, while generally failing to consider who has already fallen between the gaps.

Keep reading... Show less

Gallagher's work often suffers unfairly beside famous husband's Raymond Carver. The Man from Kinvara should permanently remedy this.

Many years ago—it had to be 1989—my sister and I attended a poetry reading given by Tess Gallagher at California State University, Northridge's Little Playhouse. We were students, new to California and poetry. My sister had a paperback copy of Raymond Carver's Cathedral, which we'd both read with youthful admiration. We knew vaguely that he'd died, but didn't really understand the full force of his fame or talent until we unwittingly went to see his widow read.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.