REVIEW: Van Gelder Series: Pat Martino -El Hombre

Guitar great Pat Martino is the subject of my third review (1, 2) from a series of albums released by Prestige (Concord) and based on the work of legendary sound engineer Rudy Van Gelder. All the albums in the series were originally mastered by Van Gelder and he has now handled the modern remastering as well.

Martino originally recorded this album 40 years ago, as a young (22) jazz guitarist making a statement with his first album, and it was – and is – a strong statement, especially with Van Gelder’s modern update bringing the music crisply to life. Martino was backed by some outstanding accompanists, including Trudy Pitts on the organ, Danny Turner on flute, and three different percussionists — Mitch Fine served as the regular drummer, while Abdu Johnson jumped in on congo drums, joined by Vance Anderson on bongos.

Performing in tandem with jazz organists was old hat to Martino by then — even at his tender age, he’d already worked with the likes of Jimmy Smith, Jimmy McGriff, and Jack McDuff, and although this was his first album as leader, he and Pitts blend effortlessly. However, from the very first cut, “Waltz For Geri”, there’s little doubt that he’s the one in the spotlight, as evidenced by a four-minute solo where he establishes his straight-ahead style.

Martino was the perfect guitarist for 1967, a time when jazz lovers were enjoying all kinds of sounds; variously labeled as hard bop, post-bop, soul-jazz, funk-fusion — pick your poison. His quick fingers leaned into the lower ranges more often than not, but he was completely at home in any musical arena as he showcased his virtuosity.

The next cut on the album, “Once I Loved”, is a Jobim tune that slows down the pace a little but picks up on a Latin beat that’s very infectious, with some nice work from Pitts on the organ and from the percussionists too. There’s also some gorgeous organ riffs on “Blues for Mickey-O”, another song I enjoyed a lot and one written by Martino, who wrote most of the music on the album.

Another tune I thought was outstanding was “Just Friends”, and in fact, every tune on the album was a good listen. This is one of those albums that doesn’t really have any clunkers, just good, better and better yet. Ironically, my least favorite was the “bonus” track, “Song For My Mother”, a ballad that was a little slow for my taste, especially after the pace that’s set by the rest of the album. Of course, you might have a different reaction — think of it as light dessert after a big, rich meal.

Martino flourished after this initial album, but he did have an unusual hiccup in his career. In 1980 he had a brain aneurysm that required surgery and caused him to lose his memory — including his ability to play. However, to his credit, he spent years of study – including listening to his own records – and regained his ability, which he still exhibits today as a successful and popular jazz professional.

1. Waltz for Geri
2. Once I Loved
3. Hombre
4. Cisco
5. One for Rose
6. Blues for Mickey-O
7. Just Friends
8. Song for My Mother

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