Guitarist Pat Martino has pulled off two pretty good tricks in the last couple decades. First, he cheated death: in 1980, in his mid-30s and at the height of his career, he survived a brain aneurysm and the subsequent surgery. Then, having lost most of his memory and motor skills on the operating table, he taught himself to play again, using his own records from the 60s and 70s as a guide. A number of those albums have since been reissued on CD by 32 Jazz, and when you hear the stunning technique and emotional immediacy of his performances, it’s easy to imagine what an inspiration–and what a challenge–they must have provided him. Martino returned to the stage in 1987 and to the studio in ’94, and it seemed he’d continued to mature artistically even when he wasn’t playing: since his comeback he’s sounded better than ever, his fertile imagination now tempered by a hint of restraint that’s reflected in his slightly dour guitar tone. A 1997 Blue Note album cluttered with guest stars has drawn more media attention, but an album like 1995’s The Maker (Evidence), where Martino’s backed only by piano, bass, and drums, easily outclasses it; he barrels through the same kind of meaty improvisations he played in the 70s, when his style left its mark on Pat Metheny. (Fittingly, the music Metheny made in the 80s now feeds into Martino’s work.) His best recent work appears not under his own name but on saxist Eric Alexander’s aptly titled first disc for the Milestone label, The First Milestone; guesting on four tracks, Martino turns in one glorious solo after another, doing more than his share to earn the album a place among the year’s best. In his first visit to Chicago since his illness, he’ll appear in a can’t-miss setting–an organ trio with fellow Philadelphian Joey DeFrancesco and drummer Billy Hart. Tuesday through Thursday, December 5 through 7, 8 and 10 PM, Friday and Saturday, December 8 and 9, 9 and 11 PM, and Sunday, December 10, 4, 8, and 10 PM, Jazz Showcase, 59 W. Grand; 312-670-2473.


Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Ken Frankling.