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

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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’s so many outstanding ones out there with so many different styles, how can you choose? I sure as heck won’t, but the one that makes me shake my head in disbelief the most when I listen to him is Pat Azzara…also known as Pat Martino.

Martino’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 that 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.

S. Victor Aaron

S. Victor Aaron

S. Victor Aaron is an SQL demon for a Fortune 100 company by day, music opinion-maker at night. His musings are strewn out across the interwebs on jazz.com, AllAboutJazz.com, a football discussion board and some inchoate customer reviews of records from the late 1990s on Amazon under a pseudonym that will never be revealed. E-mail him at svaaron@somethingelsereviews .com or follow him on Twitter at https://twitter.com/SVictorAaron
S. Victor Aaron
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