The guitarist, composer, educator and author Joel Harrison (b. 1957) founded the Alternative Guitar Summit (AGS) in 2010 as an annual jazz guitar collective of “daring, inventive players who emphasize new and unusual approaches to the guitar.”
The collective features an ever-changing cast of jazz guitarists, from the well-known and well-recorded to new talent coming up through the ranks. (I’m frankly amazed by how many terrifically distinctive guitarists from multiple generations there are these days – so many of whom work with Joel Harrison as part of the AGS.)
To date, this Pat Martino tribute disc is the AGS’s sole release under that moniker.
While AGS traditionally does its thing live in front of an audience in the New York club scene, all such facilities were effectively shuttered in March 2021 when the AGS assembled for this tribute, due to the Covid pandemic lockdowns. Harrison therefore booked a Brooklyn studio, gathered some of New York’s finest guitarists and set up video cameras to capture it all.
Much of the nine tracks on Honoring Pat Martino were caught at that gig, which the honoree himself, who was ill at the time, was able to Zoom in to. Pat Martino would be gone eight months later.
While this superb tribute disc claims to celebrate Pat Martino the guitarist – surely a noble effort in its own right – my sense is that it goes a lot further in honoring Pat Martino the composer. Both aspects of Martino’s character are well worth noting. Eight of the nine tunes featured here are Martino compositions, but – oddly – none are from the guitarist’s productive Prestige years (1967-70).
Harrison, however, curates an impressive range of Martino originals here, including “Willow” and Martino’s fairly well-known “On The Stairs,” originally from the guitarist’s album Consciousness (1974); the splendid “Line Games” and “Joyous Lake,” from the fusion album Joyous Lake (1976); “Black Glass” from Interchange (1994); “Noshufuru,” from The Maker (1995); “Country Road,” from Nexus (c. mid 90s); and “Inside Out,” from Undeniable (2011). The only cover here is J.J. Johnson’s classic “Lament,” originally appearing on Martino’s We’ll Be Together Again (1976).
Somewhat surprisingly, there are no outright nods – at least here – to Wes Montgomery, one of Martino’s greatest influences, or Martino’s own memorable Montgomery tribute, “The Visit.”
A whopping baker’s dozen of guitarists weigh in here, beautifully paying tribute to Martino’s keen sense of melody, singing and swinging tone and singular dexterity.
The guitarists on the March date are nicely paired on each tune and include Adam Rogers and Peter Bernstein on “Inside Out,” Sheryl Bailey and Ed Cherry on “Willow,” Rez Abbasi and Jeff Miles on “Noshufuru,” Dave Stryker and Paul Bollenback for “On the Stairs,” and Nir Felder and Oz Noy on “Joyous Lake” – all backed by Dezron Douglas on bass and Allan Mednard on drums.
Other guitarists include Kurt Rosenwinkel (“Black Glass”), Russell Malone (the solo “Lament”), Harrison himself (“Country Road,” also solo), and a guitarist I’m sorry to say I completely lost track of over the years, Fareed Haque, who plays “Line Games” on his 1974 Ramirez flamenco guitar – the album’s lone acoustic guitar. (“Line Games” also appears on a 2022 disc-length Pat Martino tribute by Fareed Haque titled Return to the Joyous Lake that is available after a bit of digging from fareed.com.)
Honoring Pat Martino coalesces nicely and is especially well programmed. There is a terrific balance of each of the guitarists’ individual personalities with the style and sound of the guitarist they’re honoring.
With nary a dud in the bunch, highlights for this listener include Fareed Haque’s take on “Line Games” (with Kevin Kozol neatly riffing off Gil Goldstein), Sheryl Bailey and the underrated Ed Cherry on the beautifully Wes-ish “Willow” and the inspired pairing of Dave Stryker and Paul Bollenback on the fiery “On the Stairs.” The disc reaches a high mark on “Joyous Lake,” an underrated Martino tune from a critically neglected period in the guitarist’s career, helmed by the magnificent fret work of Nir Felder and Oz Noy.
It’s worth noting that Honoring Pat Martino’s associate producer is Philadelphia violinist Joe Donofrio, who contributed to Martino’s 1976 album Starbright and produced several of the guitarist’s albums, including Formidable (2017), Martino’s final recording.
Here’s hoping there’s a second volume of Honoring Pat Martino on the way. And here’s hoping that HighNote, one of America’s last great jazz labels, might consider putting out more discs by Joel Harrison’s Alternative Guitar Summit.
According to AGS’s web site, the collective’s next scheduled event is August 21 to 25, 2023, at the Full Moon Resort in the Catskills, with Bill Frisell, Marc Ribot, Rodney Jones, Camila Meza, Kurt Rosenwinkel (who mans “Black Glass” here), Gilad Hekselman, Wayne Krantz, Joel Harrison and others.