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Last Thursday, Anthology added a concert to their "to-die-for" list when they brought jazz guitar legend Pat Martino in tandem with pianist Eldar to San Diego for just the second time in 30 years.Martino's 2006 performance at the Athenaeum was preceded by two shows in 1977 and '78 at SDSU's "Back Door."

Once in a great while, a concert becomes something more than an event, or a "show". This was one of those rarefied occasions when the expectations of a great performance were met, and exceeded in ways difficult to imagine if you weren't there.

This was a night which went beyond music. It became, among other things, an essay on redemption, survival, the triumph of the human spirit, and even miracles.

Martino's comeback from the near-total memory loss following an emergency surgery to correct a brain aneurysm in 1980 are well documented, but that was only the beginning of a series of life-threatening trials the guitarist has endured.

At one point, surgeons were warning that Martino would die without a dual heart/lung transplant. He almost expired in an ambulance on the way to a hospital. By that time, his weight was down to 76 pounds. It was the intervention of his wife Ayako that turned things around for him. She declined the surgery and got his diet and lifestyle issues ( he had to quit smoking and give up meat) reversed, and, after an operation to remove part of his larynx, Martino is feeling stronger than ever, and very grateful to be alive.

Opening with an archetypal Martino original, a knotty, chromatic bebop theme, the guitarist burst out of the gates with a solo full of half-step modulations steering a continuous stream of melodic ideas laced with constant injections of the blues. Martino's sense of flow is so strong, even when he's not soloing the sensual quality inherent in the way he brushstrokes chords is enough to drop one's jaw.

I was a little concerned that Eldar was the guitarist's choice of a duet partner, but the 25 year old pianist was pretty much the perfect foil the entire night. His virtuosity allowed him to keep pace with Martino, and there were times when they improvised together that reached the level of ecstatic communication--like twins playing mind games with each other. Eventually the two exchanged a series of traded eights in a wicked display of baroque fluidity and gutbucket aesthetics that sounded like Bach meeting Jimmy Smith.

Tinkling piano shifting into a two-beat feel had Martino sketching the melody to the Dave Brubek classic, "In Your Own Sweet Way," in which the guitarist departed into tangentially related arpeggios and daring passing tones, all so organically connected that the end result seemed inevitable. Eldar kept the stride feeling going as Martino drew dark chords behind him.

The pianist conjured up shimmering harmonies while Martino stroked the melody to "Round Midnight," in the low register, pausing to sculpt subtle inflections of timbre and glissandi before launching into a solo that spun orbital lines around the piano, which shadowed his every move. Martino would create a phrase then drop it in half-steps until it reached an intersecting tonality, Eldar stuck closer to the melody in his short solo--as if to not disturb the delicate reverie of what just occurred.

Things reached a zenith with the pair's muscular race through the Sonny Rollins tune "Oleo," which was so simpatico they even inserted a ritard into their unison reading of the theme. Martino strung together an astonishing series of chromatic sequences that ornamented the changes even as they defied them. Eldar sent both hands flying in opposite directions-- supporting himself with a rollicking left hand bass line while the fingers of his right hand seemed to chase each other up the keys. Finally, the two began trading phrases, completing each others thoughts, even trying to trip each other up.

As the packed house (Anthology appeared to be sold-out), rose to it's feet, Martino and Eldar waved goodbye. When it became obvious that an encore was not to be denied, Martino took the microphone, obviously moved, and thanked the audience, before diving into "The Great Stream," an angular joyride from his classic "Pat Martino Live," album. You couldn't ask for much more, and this is an early candidate for concert of the year.

Photo by Anonymous

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