Pat Martino: EAST!
Mobile Fidelity UDSACD 2018 hybrid SACD/CD. Don Schlitten, prod.; Richard Alderson, eng. Remastering engineer: Sean R. Britton. Original recording date: 1968/Remastered: 2006. A/DSD. TT: 38:20.
Pat Martino: guitar; Eddie Green: piano; Ben Tucker, Tyrone Brown: bass; Lenny McBrowne: drums.
You know that old saying Don't judge a book by its cover? It applies to recordings, too. Even though I've never heard a Pat Martino album that didn't knock my socks off, I've always skipped over East! in the record bins because of its bright orange jacket with its quizzical looking Buddha. Just another late '60s dabble with Eastern exoticism thought I. That stuff never works.
Maybe yes, maybe no—the point is that East! has absolutely nothing to do with the Far East, Buddhism, or anything except solid hard-bop jazz, driven by one of the guitar giants of our times.
Well, maybe the song "East" does have a bit of that Indo-Arabic pulse to it, but if they'd called it "Throb" or "Lope" instead, you'd probably never even think of an Asian connection. "East" is a solid jam—obviously composed in the studio, since it just falls apart at the end. That's okay, it also has an electric immediacy that no amount of polish could compensate for.
Of course, Martino's amazing guitar playing is the draw here. His runs are complex and original. Every jazz guitarist claims to be trying to sound like a horn player, but Martino comes closer than anybody else I can think of—that is, until he starts chording, at which point he's sui generis. Nobody comps chord changes and voices like Martino.
Martino's virtuosity is matched by his guitar tone. It's liquid, thick, and creamy. It sounds like molten silver. It's captured on East! with incredible clarity, but also with a degree of detail missing from most of his late '60s/early '70s recordings. For one thing, there's absolutely no vestige of 60Hz amplifier noise, simply warm, overdriven bloom. Also obvious are Martino's predilection for heavy picks, heavy gauge strings, and high action.
How do you hear stuff like that? Just listen to East!. You'll understand.
There is one element of East!'s sound that may stick in the craw of some audiophiles: It sounds live and present, but it doesn't sound real. Well, not real as in three-dimensional sonic holography. There's guitar and drums in the right channel and piano and bass in the left. It never coalesces into a soundstage, although the sound in both channels is natural and detailed.
This isn't exactly like the hard left/hard right stereo split shown by so many late '50s jazz recordings, but neither is it U-R-There sound. It didn't bother me, but I certainly noticed it.
Since I always avoided East!, I don't have an original for comparison purposes. However, MoFi's remastering is a pleasure to listen to and both the CD and SACD layers have liquid, warm, full-bodied sound. You'd need an awfully clean original to sound this good—and even that wouldn't give you Sean Britton's clean-up mastery. If you do have a clean original, you still might want the MoFi hybrid disc to keep it pristine. It's addictive in its own right.
But if you don't have a mint original—or if you've never heard East!—hie thee to the music retailer of your choice and pick up this essential classic. It's great jazz played by a god among guitarists. Plus it sounds good—who could ask for anything more?