Think Tank (Blue Note)
Released October 6, 2003
Grammy Nominee for Best Jazz Instrumental Album 2004
“Think Tank is the title for my latest release on Blue Note Records, due to be out sometime in October of this year. The digital composite is a collage containing three separate elements. The first is a version of the 12 point star with the addition of fingering constellations faded and superimposed upon the background of a digital painting of mine originally titled ‘A Folded Kiss’. The collage continued on a suggestion of Donofrio’s to contain them within an interesting version of a Buckminster Fuller pentahedron, gaining more dimension through the use of gradients and contrast.
Think Tank doesn’t end there. Although the song itself is similar to a standard minor blues, its construction was odd comparatively. The topic for the motif is drawn from three words. Coltrane, Tenor and Blue. Their transfer into melodies came from the interface of the English Alphabet and the Aeolian Mode, which in itself is a mirror image of the first seven letters of that alphabet , A to G, continuously repeated from H to Z. The placement of the tones, phrasing and chord changes were improvised.”
1. The Phineas Trane (Harold Mabern) 6:40
2. Think Tank (Pat Martino) 12:09
3. Dozen Down (Pat Martino) 7:56
4. Sun on My Hands (Jim Ridl) 9:19
5. Africa (John Coltrane) 11:44
(Pat Martino, Grammy Nominee Best Jazz Instrumental Solo 2004)
6. Quatessence (Pat Martino) 9:59
7. Before You Ask (Pat Martino) 6:53
8. Earthlings (Joe Ford) 5:33
Joe Lovano: tenor sax
Pat Martino: guitar
Gonzalo Rubalcaba: piano
Lewis Nash: drums
Christian McBride: bass
Recorded January 8 – 10, 2003, at Sony Studios, New York, NY
Produced by Joseph Donofrio and Pat Martino
It is difficult to make mainstream jazz (hard bop, etc.) relevant in light of the subversion or destruction of its form that occurred over thirty years ago. But, as many improvisers proved, it was possible to make consistently engaging and advanced music in the hard bop idiom well after the innovations of Ornette and Cecil took hold, and though the case for it is a little tougher today, there are a number of musicians who have found something new to say with this language. It is not entirely clear from this recording whether guitarist Pat Martino has made such a case or not, but in any event, the band he has assembled for Think Tank, his fourth album for Blue Note, does have something to say.
Martino is joined here by tenor saxophonist Joe Lovano, pianist Gonzalo Rubalcaba, bassist Christian McBride and drummer Lewis Nash (in other words, an all-star cast of neo-boppers). The guitarist is the “old man” of the group, having recorded with Jack McDuff among others in the ’60s and ’70s, though a 1980 brain aneurysm curtailed his playing activity for several years until he could re-learn his instrument. Martino is a modal improviser, similar to John Abercrombie or Attila Zoller, but despite a wide harmonic vocabulary, his playing is quite pedestrian, and offers little in the way of inventiveness.
Rubalcaba is the greatest revelation here; his piano style has elements of a young Mal Waldron or Herbie Hancock (ca. Grachan Moncur III’s Some Other Stuff ) in its use of minimalist repetition and an insistent left hand. There is also a subversiveness and eclecticism reminiscent of Jaki Byard. After Lovano’s fairly storming solo on “Phineas Trane, Rubalcaba comes in at the slowest possible tempo, repeating sketches of a solo element, and the rhythm section appears completely oblivious to what has happened. Even ballads aren’t safe territory; “Sun on My Hands, a duo for guitar and piano, finds Rubalcaba placing dense bottom-end tone clusters behind Martino’s improvisations at one point, darkening the mood quite effectively. Though not as immediately attention-getting as Rubalcaba, Lovano’s tenor style is solid and effective, reminiscent of mid-’60s firebrands like Joe Henderson or Sam Rivers with a gutbucket low end and regular use of harmonics that keep his solos lively, if not groundbreaking. Unfortunately, McBride and Nash are not particularly spry, basically serving to keep time behind the explorations of Rubalcaba, Lovano and Martino. Compositionally, the up-tempo numbers are lifted straight from the Coltrane and Lee Morgan books (“Quatessence and “Earthlings are basically “Giant Steps ), though “Phineas Trane revisits Andrew Hill’s “Pumpkin nicely (a rare homage indeed).
Think Tank is a pretty standard affair in the annals of modern mainstream jazz, though the group has a savior in Gonzalo Rubalcaba, whose inventiveness shows a willingness to subvert and challenge his mates. It is when the group is challenged within an idiom that that idiom can be said to be living, and for that we have players like Rubalcaba and, to a degree, Lovano. Hopefully, the rest of the group was inspired enough that their next date together will be an advance.
Clifford Allen (AllAboutJazz)