- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 21, 2004

On the Blues Alley stage Thursday night, guitarist Pat Martino was the picture of serenity. A countenance this relaxed on stage has not been seen since Perry Como last lazed his way through a tune. But for all the Zen calm of the artist, the music that jumped out from the bandstand was fiery, and at times fierce.

Mr. Martino is perhaps best known, not for being one of the great improvisers on the jazz guitar (which he most certainly is), but for the brain catastrophe that nearly ended his career. After establishing himself in the late ‘60s as a hard-bop disciple of Wes Montgomery, and in the ‘70s as a crucial figure in jazz-rock fusion, in 1980 he was diagnosed with a brain aneurysm. Neurosurgery to treat it left him with total amnesia. Not only did he have to relearn who his mother was, he had to relearn the guitar.

After a long recovery Mr. Martino came to sound again like the Martino of old. At Blues Alley, the guitarist demonstrated that he is still at the top of his game, playing long, flowing bebop lines, every note clear and deliberately articulated. Only every now and then, after a particularly tricky passage, would he allow an expression to creep across his face, a sly grin as if to say, “Yeah, whaddaya think of that?”

Mr. Martino has brought a fine young band with him out on the road. Given that Mr. Martino’s recent work is very much inspired by John Coltrane, it was fitting that the pianist, Frank LoCrasto, was working out of a decidedly McCoy Tyner-like bag.

Tenor saxophonist Michael Pedicin came out of the Michael Brecker school of playing and was a driving presence on the evening’s hard-charging selections. However, he did seem to have but two settings, “off” and “kill,” which meant overkill on the tunes requiring a somewhat more modulated approach. For a more musically sophisticated take on much of the same music, check out Mr. Martino’s most recent Blue Note album, “Think Tank,” which features the wise and sinuous saxophone of Joe Lovano.

On the drums, Scott Robinson swung hard and swung easy, all the while chewing gum out of time. (How does one do that?) His fills rolled and rumbled across the kit, building delightful tension that would be released with a crash back into the groove. Drum solos, visual and visceral things that they are, usually elicit more crowd enthusiasm than they deserve, but Mr. Robinson earned his raves with playing that was as intelligent as it was pyrotechnic.

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