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One Track Mind: Pat Martino “Sunny” (1972)

You've seen it many times before and probably joined the fray a time or two. I'm talking about that never-ending debate on "Who is the greatest guitarist of all time?" Man, there are so many outstanding ones out there with so many different styles, how can you choose? I sure as heck won't, but the one who makes me shake my head in disbelief the most when I listen to him is Pat Azzara… also known as Pat Martino.

GP-MartinoMartino's remarkable return to form after completely losing memory of the skill due to an operation to repair a brain aneurysm is a story unto itself. In fact, his records of late have been among his very best (Mark Saleski did a fine write-up on Pat's 2006 Wes Montgomery tribute CD just a few months ago). But Martino's legacy was already well established before his rehab because his pre-surgery records were either good or head shaking good.

A bop-oriented guitarist of the highest order from the Montgomery school of fretmasters, Pat Martino was already considered a "guitarist's guitarist" by the early seventies. And you would expect him to really show off his abilities in a live setting. Fortunately, he did record a club date in 1972 with Ron Thomas on electric piano, Tyrone Brown on Fender bass, and Sherman Ferguson on drums. Live is a set of three extended pieces that were conducive for extended jams. The first two songs were modal workouts that included changing tempos and knotty chord changes in the head followed by Pat stretching out for several minutes on the solo spaces. But I chose to spotlight the third tune because it proves Pat didn't need complex material to astound the living begeezus out of you. He can take a familiar, straightforward pop tune like the 1966 Bobby Hebb smash hit "Sunny" and blow you away all the same.

Following a minute in which the theme is played out, Martino launches into his solo, carefully building intensity over the next four minutes and forty-five seconds. Through it all, he is always locked into the groove. His tone is soft and, while his guitar is a tad undermiked, you can still hear every note because he plucks his notes clearly. In his trademark style, Martino makes judicious use of repeating lines and peppering his fluid climbs up and down the scales much like Charlie Parker did with his sax. Tyrone Brown always seem to be listening to what the leader is doing as his melodic bass lines ebb and flow with the guitar in perfect sync, as well as Ferguson's drums. As he finally reaches the climax of his solo, the audience is clearly appreciating the six string display and he breaks clean to make way for the keyboard solo before returning for another go around with the theme and some more soloing in the coda.

By the way, I actually had two tracks in mind, as "Sunny" barely beat out the 1976 power fusion exercise "Line Games" for today's topic, but I'll throw in that track anyway so you can hear Pat sounding like Grant Green on steroids. Yup, it's yet another head shaker.

Listen: Pat Martino – "Sunny"

Listen: Pat Martino – "Line Games"

"One Track Mind" is a weekly drool over a single song selected on a whim and a short thesis on why you should be drooling over it, too. Downloads are low quality rips available for only about a week.

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  • Mark Saleski

    that solo on “Sunny” is a perfect example of how much Martino “hears” in a chord structure. amazing how he can go so far out on such a simple progression.

  • duane

    Line Games contains the solo with the magic lick, 2:33 into the song.

    I got to meet Martino a few months ago after a show at Yoshi’s in Oakland, where he played all of Remember. I told him about the time that I tried to get my guitar teacher to teach me that lick. Teacher just looked at me. I asked if he could even explain what he’s doing. I asked, “What do you call that?” Teacher said, “That’s called chops.”

    After relating this brief anecdote, Martino said, “Oh, I wouldn’t touch that one now,” and I had to wonder exactly what he meant by that, given his recovery story and all.

  • http://daslob.blogspot.com/ Pico

    Mark: amen, brotha.

    duane: That magic lick is among my all time favorites, it gets me air guitaring every time. I’m not sure exactly what Pat means, either. He sounds as good as he ever did. At least he did at Yoshi’s when they taped it for his most recent live record. I’m sure you caught a helluva show.

    -P

  • JR

    Duane: After relating this brief anecdote, Martino said, “Oh, I wouldn’t touch that one now,” and I had to wonder exactly what he meant by that, given his recovery story and all.

    The obvious interpretation is that he just doesn’t think he can play it anymore.

    Or, he doesn’t like it anymore, or doesn’t consider it consistent with his current style.

    In a broader sense, though, jazz musicians aren’t in the business of re-enacting past moments of inspiration. To throw a lick into a solo just because people remember it would be contrived. It just isn’t Zen.

  • Mark Saleski

    i can’t imagine that he can’t play it anymore. i mean, it’s fast but it sounds to me like a series of swept arpeggios.

    not that I could play it!

    shoot, now i really wonder what he meant!