In the not too distant past we have had the pleasure of hearing previously unreleased live recordings from artists such as Miles Davis, Bill Evans, Wes Montgomery and Thelonious Monk with John Coltrane. Now comes an album from guitarist Pat Martino's personal collection recorded during the waning days of the “chitlin' circuit” at Club 118 in Louisville, KY. The tracks are culled from different appearances at the club during 1968 and 1969 although the program sounds cohesive, as if it were a one night engagement. A welcome surprise, this new High Note release delivers a completely unanticipated uplifting punch to one's musical sensibilities.
“Young Guns” documents performances by a trio co-led by organist Gene Ludwig and guitarist Pat Martino with Randy Gelispie at the drums. Already an acknowledged monster at the guitar, Pat Martino was in his early twenties but had already been playing since his teens in Hammond organ-based groups such as those led by Don Patterson, Richard “Groove” Holmes, Jack McDuff, Trudy Pitts and Willis Jackson. He learned his trade working on the road with these groups and was soon recognized as a major guitar voice with a firm, rich tone showing the influence of Wes Montgomery, Grant Green and Joe Pass, yet his cutting improvisatory skills and burning energy made his playing stand-out as unique. You know right away it's Martino when you hear him. His solos have always been extremely well developed, blending formidable technique with prodigious quantities of natural Philly soul.
Organist Gene Ludwig was not as well known at the time of this recording and only came to more attention when this trio recorded with saxophonist Sonny Stitt on his “Night Letter” session for Prestige Records in 1969. That said, Ludwig already possessed an authoritative sound at the Hammond B-3 organ with a will and the chops to swing and make use of the Hammond's range of sound. Drummer Randy Gelispie had been working with Ludwig for some six years when Martino joined their group; his playing possessing the propulsive energy to drive this remarkable ensemble.
The chitlin' circuit was a euphemism given to the proliferation of clubs conducive to mixed ethnicity that were prevalent all over the east and midwest and provided venue for numerous jazz, soul and R&B groups over the years. During their heyday one could find many such places in cities such as Philadelphia (Gert's, Pep's, Grendel's Lair); Pittsburgh (the legendary Hurricane); Indianapolis (the Missile Room where Wes Montgomery and his brothers and other great Indianapolis jazz legends gigged); and in Louisville there were spots such as the Blue Moon, Palm Room, Top Hat, The Mint Julep and our venue for this recording, Club 118, aka Eddie Donaldson's Shack. The ambiance typically featured a bar, tables and a small stage. Organist Bill Heid crafted a musical ode to the prevalence of seating in these rooms on his “Orange Chair Tango” (“Dark Secrets”, Savant Records). In any event, these were intimate spots where socialization and music mingled and they afforded the traveling bands of the era opportunity to reach their audience and to perform with this live interaction. The organ combo was a mainstay of the chitlin' circuit offering soul-based sounds, jazz standards and popular songs of the day in a feel-good atmosphere. So set your time warp goggles for 1968/69 and find a spot inside the club as Ludwig, Martino and Gelispie take the stage.
First on the program is a breezy rendition of “Who Can I Turn To?” that begins innocently enough with Ludwig stating the melody on the B-3 and Martino comping in the background then taking the first solo. It doesn't take him long to turn up the burner with his finely honed ability to find a groove, augmented by cleanly elicited runs across the fretboard and Wes Montgomery-style chords. Ludwig comes in cooking a-la Jimmy Smith with vivacious runs across the B-3 keyboards and then Martino returns for a series of trades with Gelispie before we go back to the melody and Ludwig takes the number to a romping close.
John Coltrane's “Mr. PC” (for bassist Paul Chambers) is taken at a frenetic pace by all; Martino and Ludwig smoke relentlessly and Gelispie again gets in his licks in a series of trades with Martino. The Milt Jackson number “Sam Sack” follows in a more subdued and bluesy setting, although Martino soon turns up the intensity with a thoroughly delightful solo. Ludwig delivers a bit of a masterpeice in B-3 burning as Martino steadily comps with that rich tone of his and Gelispie works the drumset like a rhythmic master. This is a textbook example of why the B-3 combos were and are so loved with their fat, comin'-right-at'cha sound. At thirteen minutes in length, these fellows don't drop the ball for a second.
Playing pretty up next with “Watch What Happens” and some tasty percussive work by Gelispie setting it up for Martino and Ludwig to state the melody and then render exquisite solos. “Close Your Eyes” is taken as a toe-tapper and Wes Montgomery's “Road Song” features a bossa nova beat. It's quintessential Martino guitar work that prompts one to wonder whether providence didn't compensate for Wes Montgomery's departure from straight-ahead jazz recording by the latter 1960s through Martino's emergence as a leader. The album closes with a previously un-recorded Martino original “Colussus” that again has the group working at a crisp tempo and with spirited soloing from all members.
As is the case with many of these impromptu recordings there are limitations to the audio quality in the range and sharpness of sound, yet the pickup of the individual instruments is balanced and the clarity of the music is consistently very good without dropouts, bad fades or muddy sounds so that the product is thoroughly enjoyable. The historical significance and palpable energy of this recording far outweigh its imperfections.
Martino subsequently issued several fine albums for Prestige and Muse Records, however, a decade after these dates he suffered a brain aneurism and lost his memory and ability to play. Subsequently he had to painstakingly relearn his instrument and style – the existence of tapes such as this aiding in the process. Martino is still with us, as exciting as ever, touring and issuing eagerly anticipated albums. Gene Ludwig passed away in 2010 and had realized a successful career, joining Sonny Stitt's band along with Randy Gelispie and later being quite active upon the jazz scene in his native Pittsburgh, PA and recording as leader and sideman. Randy Gelispie is also still around, having just recorded upon Jim Alfredson's Dirty Fingers release last year (“A Tribute to Big John Patton”) as he remains a staple of the B-3 combo sound.
With four of the tracks at over twelve minutes and none less than eight, “Young Guns” is a loaded album in many respects. It documents a point in time when jazz music was still flourishing in small venues and the audience supported numerous touring groups, and when these particular musicians were in their prime. It's easy to envision oneself amidst the audience at Club 118 and become mesmerized by the unrestrained artistic energy and enthusiasm of these jazz sharpshooters.
Gene Ludwig – Hammond B-3 organ; Pat Martino – guitar; Randy Gelispie – drums.
Tracks: Who Can I Turn To?; Mr. PC; Sam Sack; Watch What Happens; Close Your Eyes; Road Song; Colussus