Martino´s Think Tank

REVIEW by Willard Manus

LOS ANGELES -- The great guitarist Pat Martino came to L.A. recently to play a gig at the Jazz Bakery and to plug--in a lowkey, dignified way--his latest album, THINK TANK (Blue Note Records), which received two Grammy nominations last year.

Martino was not accompanied by the musicians who backed him up on the CD: saxophonist Joe Lobrano, pianist Gonzalo Rubalcaba, bassist Christian McBride and drummer Lewis Nash. Instead he worked with a local foursome comprised of Michael Pedicin Jr. (sax), Frank Locastro (piano), Jeff Pedraz (contra-bass) and Scott Robinson (drums). It was fascinating to compare Martino's work with the two groups, if only because it showed off his creative gifts in a different light each time.

THINK TANK is, on the whole, cerebral, complex and precise in character. Martino, as Bela Fleck observes in his liner notes, "has always been an icon, an inspiration and a source of ideas. He has created his own language on the guitar--he walks among us but down different pathways."

Martino dedicates THINK TANK to John Coltrane and says the late sax player provided the inspiration for most of the eight cuts on the release. "I never gave any conscious thoughts to it but the Trane references emerged time and time again. With that surfacing throughout the recording, making the album taught me a lot about myself and my interests."

Martino learned his craft from the likes of Willis Jackson, Red Holloway, Billy Higgins and Sonny Stitt, but he has also been strongly influenced by Indian music and the classical explorations of Karlheinz Stockhausen and Elliot Carter, which is why he can talk about the title track Think Tank thusly, "The melody of the piece is composed on the letters of Coltrane, Tenor and Blue. I took the C-major scale (Aeolian mode) and placed it beneath the 26 letters of the English alphabet. After A through G, which creates the relative minor, I repeat the process with the remaining letters. The first phrase of the motif comes from COL, the second phrase was from TRANE, the third phrase was from TENOR, the fourth phrase was an improvised insert--EDEGA--as a resolution of the motif. The bridge is based on the word BLUE.

"The song Think Tank was composed as a mental exercise as well as an emotional one. Used as the album's title it also relates to an interaction with the four other artists."

THINK TANK is aptly titled because, obviously, a lot of brain power has gone into it. But the CD is anything but cold and distant. For all of his mathematical theories, Martino also plays with heart and warmth at all times.

At the Jazz Bakery Martino also showed off his phenomenal speed and dexterity as a player. Fingers flashing up and down the instrument, he made one dazzling run after another, producing fiery chords that brought roars of approval from the near capacity audience.

Pedicin kept pace with Martino, taking on every challenge the guitarist threw at him and coming up with some inspired solos of his own.

Martino is sixty years old but chose in L.A. to work with four young musicians (each of whom is in his twenties). While they couldn't match him in technique, they more than made up for it with drive and creativity, resulting in a night of jazz that could truly be called memorable.