Sunday, October 11, 2015

Pat Martino - 2003 First Light; "Joyous Lake" - "Starbright"

"First Light" is a compilation of the legendary Pat Martino's two recordings for Warner Bros., "Starbright"(1976) and "Joyous Lake" (1977). They represent the guitarist's flirtation with jazz-rock fusion and have to be taken in that context. "Starbright" is the more varied of the two, featuring several lovely duets with electric pianist and longtime accompanist Gil Goldstein, and an excellent solo acoustic piece, "Prelude." Many of the cuts feature funky keyboards and rhythms similar to Herbie Hancock and Chick Corea's work of the era ("Deeda" begs to be sampled), while others are more pastoral, including the title track, which pops up in several variations throughout. One of his most rewarding listens. "Joyous Lake" is more strictly a fusion record, with a regular band (including the great drummer Kenwood Dennard). Synthesizers and electronic effects are far more prominent, yet Martino's style (much less rockish than Coryell, McLaughlin or DiMeola)shines through. The title cut and "Line Games" are the strongest cuts. A bit dated, yes, but a fun listen. These are the last two recordings Martino made before the brain aneurysm that sidelined him for many years and forced him to learn to play again by reading his own literature and listening to his own recordings was discovered. Not the place to start for the curious, but worth checking out for a complete picture of one of the best.

'Joyous Lake' has been out of print for quite a while now. Thank heaven it has been reissued as part of 'First Light'. Pat is at the top of his game here, but at the time 'Joyous Lake' was released, the band was the real news. At that time, Kenwood Dennard (drums) was at Berklee, and Delmar Brown (keyboards) was in NYC performing with cats like Hiram Bullock, Will Lee, Steve Jordan, The Brecker Brothers, Jaco and the rest of the 70's New York fusion jazz monsters. Together with Mark Leonard (bass) and Pat, Woody and Delmar (who had played together quite a bit in NYC at that point) broke new ground with their unique styles and expert technique. Brown's deep keyboard colorizations and Dennard's driving, complex and flawless drumming make this record truly unique, and one of the greatest fusion studio performances ever. Dennard (a former student of the great Elvin Jones) demonstrates his amazing ability here. I have heard people say that 'Joyous Lake' contains some of the best fusion drumming ever recorded. (Think Weckl, Chambers, White) Kenwood, Delmar and Mark were kids at the time 'Joyous Lake' was recorded. Hat's off to Pat Martino for recognizing young talent way back then. No wonder he had them "play it again" on 'Stone Blue'. If you like Pat Martino, fusion or great musicianship, then your collection needs to include 'First Light'.

Guitar and fusion fans will surely welcome this excellent 32 Jazz set featuring all of Joyous Lake and Starbright, guitarist Pat Martino's two 1976 Warner Brothers albums. Martino left Muse Records in 1976 with the promise of mega-giant Warner's clout to reach a wider audience. Usually that spells concession to popular tunes or sellable formulas. And while this music is often more fusion-oriented than anything Martino had recorded up to this point, there's no sell out.

Joyous Lake catches Martino with keyboardist Delmar Brown and Kenwood Dennard, who reunited with the guitarist on last year's similar Stone Blue (also featuring Martino's delightful "Joyous Lake," which prefigures the music of Pat Metheny by nearly a decade). Here, electric bassist Delmar Brown also helps the quartet move around several flavors of funky fusion that recall then-sounds of Magical Shepherd -era Miroslav Vitous and Allan Holdsworth with nods toward Headhunter funk ("M'Wandishi")and Eleventh House rock ("Song Bird").

Starbright features a larger, all together different Martino group featuring three keyboardists (Gil Goldstein, Warren Bernhardt and Mike Maneri), three percussionists, bass, violin, flute and tabla. There are Martino's patented ruminations ("Starbright," reminiscent of Al DiMeola/Return to Forever, and "Prelude"), worthy fusion ("Law," "Deeda," "Blue Macaw) and two of Wayne Shorter's more contemplative ballads from Miles' 1967 opus Nefertiti ("Fall," "Nefertiti").

As always, Martino remains an engaging technical dazzler - as opposed to all those forgotten 70s guitar heroes who thought speed and sound meant good playing. Martino even experiments with guitar synthesizers and other effects (especially during the Joyous Lake tracks). But the strength of the guitarist's melodic personality, particularly during signature solos, is never in question.

This is music that can be enjoyed well beyond 1977. Over two decades later, there is substance and sustenance to Pat Martino's music and First Light is a valuable part of this great guitarist's ever-enduring legacy.

Tracklist:

Joyous Lake
1     Line Games     3:55
2     Pyramidal Vision     7:42
3     Mardi Gras     8:56
4     M'Wandishi     5:30
5     Song Bird     7:55
6     Joyous Lake     7:33

Starbright
7     Starbright     3:37
8     Eyes     2:36
9     Law     3:37
10     Fall     2:03
11     Deeda     3:43
12     Starbright Epilogue     0:30
13     Masquerada     2:53
14     Nefertiti     2:51
15     Blue Macaw     2:57
16     City Lights     0:53
17     Prelude     6:25
18     Epilogue     0:53

Personnel:

On Joyous Lake:

Pat Martino: guitar, EML 101 synthesizer, synthesizer, percussion, flexiglass;
Delmar Brown: Fender Rhodes, EML 500 synthesizer, Oberheim polyphonic synthesizer;
Mark Leonard: electric bass;
Kenwood Dennard: drums, percussion.

On Starbright:

Pat Martino: guitar, synthesizer;
Gil Goldstein: keyboards;
Warren Bernhardt, Michael Maneri: synthesizers;
Will Lee: bass;
Charles Collins, Michael Carvin: drums;
Alyrio Lima Cova: percussion;
Marty Quinn: tablas;
Al Regni: flute;
Joe D'Onofrio: violin.

2 comments:

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  2. A remarkable guitarist! I saw him in SF around the time of these recordings. Tiny club, memorable night. Thanks for sharing this.

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