Pat Martino continues to investigate new forms, never staying constant in his search for discovering alternative possibilities for the guitar. When Martino teamed with Joey DeFrancesco on Martino’s own release, Live at Yoshi’s
, or on DeFrancesco’s whimsical Falling in Love Again,
on which DeFrancesco introduced the mysterious singer Joe Doggs, Martino may recall his work with classic Philadelphia organ trios, such as Trudy Pitts’. Or Martino may go traditional by playing a duo, "I’m Confessin’," with his mentor, Les Paul, on All Sides Now.
The disparate range of guitarists paying tribute to Martino on that, his first Blue Note CD, proves how wide-ranging Martino’s imagination can be and how influential his innovations on guitar have been. Allowed artistic freedom ever since he joined Blue Note, Martino now has recorded one of his few quintet groups, consisting of no less than some of the most highly respected and equally versatile jazz musicians recording on major labels today: Joe Lovano, Gonzalo Rubalcaba, Christian McBride and Lewis Nash.
Martino’s Think Tank
evolved, after some initial choices, into a tribute to John Coltrane. Or rather, the music of Think Tank
takes Coltrane's spirit, approach and even his name as a starting point for writing transcendent music that goes beyond the playing of notes and into an examination of the meaning of the soul.
With an equally intellectual approach to music as well, reminiscent of Greg Osby’s similar all-encompassing approach, Martino wrote the title song from the assignment of notes to the name "John Coltrane," as shown on a clef in the liner notes. Led by Martino’s finely articulated lines in unison with Lovano, the almost serendipitously composed tune turns out to be an eight-bar eighth-note-stated minor-keyed theme allowing enough space for the insertion of intriguing fills or improvisation. Martino’s composition, "Dozen Down," arises from equally unconventional compositional sources, based as it is on the incremental lowering of its tonal center through twelve descending steps in fifths.
Appropriately, Martino includes a composition ("Sun On My Hands") by his regular pianist, Jim Ridl, who convinced Martino to start recording again after a self-imposed absence to take care of his aging and ill parents. In fact, one wonders why Ridl doesn’t appear on Think Tank,
other than the fact that major-league players were intended for the project. Rubalcaba’s playing is as astounding as Ridl’s in his own unique way, although on this project, Rubalcaba restrains himself from the heights of pianistic aggressiveness that he showed on his early albums. Instead, he defers to Martino, filling in when he pauses, playing in parallel, developing his own classically derived, restrained solos and coloring the proceedings with a warm touch and deep and haunting, broadly played chords.
While Lovano delivers the saxophone work with his ever-present passion for the music and technical ease, he remains Joe Lovano instead of a Coltrane alter ego. A perfect foil for Martino, Lovano goes outside the lines on his work, as intended, carrying the tracks to higher levels than they normally would have attained with his characteristic insight into harmonic gold to be mined. Even on Coltrane’s "Africa," uncomplicated in its changes but spiritual in its trance-link appeal, Lovano maintains his own sound, never leading one to mistake him for Coltrane for a second, which is as it should be.
At times playing solely with the suggestive back-up of bassist McBride or a minimalistic Rubalcaba, Martino adopts a freer and more angular approach than he has on his more recent recordings, proof of his constant search for new avenues of expression. Think Tank,
whose title emphasizes the gray-mattered consideration of the CD’s music as it was being formed, doesn’t adequately describe the heart that animates of Martino’s music. Sometimes disguised by the joie de vivre
of straight-ahead jazz or the grease of B-3 organ trio overflowing extroversion, that spirituality blends with thoughtfully considered curiosity to once again position Pat Martino as trail-blazing guitarist with even more revelations to come.