Pat Martino, guitar – El Hombre – Prestige

by | Feb 16, 2007 | Jazz CD Reviews | 0 comments

Pat Martino, guitar – El Hombre – Prestige 30158-2 (1967), 47:43 + bonus sampler ***1/2:

(Pat Martino, guitar; Trudy Pitts, organ; Danny Turner, flute;  Mitch Fine, drums; Abdu Johnson, conga drums; Vance Anderson, bongos)

Let’s face facts: a lot of El Hombre sounds like lounge music, and some of it even as if it should be pumped through an elevator sound system. But that’s not Pat Martino’s fault, nor is it a knock on his talent that Latin-influenced jazz with flutes and congas have become synonymous with elevator music. A closer listen to the album reveals a sophiscated and subtle jazz guitar player, influenced by the cultural changes around him, playing very pretty music.

The album’s first track is one extended solo by Martino, who was taking his first chance as a band leader to let loose years of ideas. Having been a back-up guitarist for such greats as Jack McDuff, Jimmy Smith, and Richard “Groove” Holmes, Martino, finally in the spotlight, shoots out endless lines and scales. Trudy Pitts’ organ, squeezing out thick chords at intervals, provides a wonderful bedrock for Martino’s endless improvisation.

Once I Loved, the album’s second track, is a Latin-flavored groove with congas and bongos, and I’m quite sure it’s currently being piped into a dentist’s office somewhere. But what the patients in the dentist’s office are missing is how Pitts’ organ creeps in and out of the mix, sliding into the groove with a watery chord or two, like a new color appearing on a painting where you’ve never seen it before. Martino is all low and midrange most of the time, finding rich, trebly lines that often have the same pop as the skin of the congas.

El Hombre begins with a funky intro from Pitts that evokes images of the moments before the big casino heist in an old Rat Pack movie. When Turner’s flute appears, it’s like manna from heaven. Nothing sounds cooler (and I mean cool in the swinging sixties, girls in mini-skirts, Playboy After Dark sort of way) than jazz with flutes. What makes the track swing even more is the six-armed drumming of Mitch Fine, who creates a massive clatter of cymbals, snare, and bass drum that never lets up.

Cisco feels breezy, but in a good way. With Pitts providing the low end with bassy chords, Turner and Martino swing with a doubled, winding melodic line. Fine keeps the track moving by playing his ride cymbal like a splash cymbal, while bongos snap and pop in the background. One for Rose finds Martino playing the high, high notes he usually avoids, as well as introducing the kind of full on romantic melodies he usually avoids.

Just because jazz albums like El Hombre make great background music doesn’t mean they lose any appeal when you listen closer. Up close, the textures and tones of the album captured by Rudy Van Gelder, in his new remastered version, are amazing. The different sounds coming out of Trudy Pitts’ organ alone are enough reason to appreciate the album, but when you add the shiny staccato octaves of Martino’s guitar and Danny Turner’s swinging flute, it becomes clear that El Hombre is more than just the soundtrack to getting your cavities filled.

TrackList: Waltz for Geri, Once I Loved, El Hombre, Cisco, One for Rose, A Blues for Mickey-O, Just Friends, Song for My Mother

– Daniel Krow

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