Pat Martino and Kenny Barron, two of the many Philadelphians appearing at the 2016 Portland Jazz Festival, led their groups in a concert at the Winningstad Theatre. First up, guitarist Martino’s trio with organist Pat Bianchi and drummer Carmen Intorre played a set infused with the soul feeling that Martino absorbed and refined with the saxophonists Gene Ammons and Sonny Stitt and with organists Richard Groove Holmes, Jack McDuff, Jimmy Smith and Don Patterson. Martino is admired equally for his technical agility and a mathematical approach to improvisation that he is able to combine with his blues sensibility. In Portland, that resulted in an exhilarating series of solos. Bianchi at least matched his leader’s verve and inventiveness and in a couple of cases outstripped Martino in swing and interesting ideas. Intorre’s drumming propels without intruding. His ability to place a rhythm accent at precisely the right millisecond was a major factor in the band’s swing.
“Footprints” showed up on so many festival set lists that it could qualify as the unofficial PDX festival theme song. Martino and Bianchi reached what might have been the set’s apogee with their soloing on the piece. But the trio followed it with an opulent “’Round Midnight,” then topped that with a double encore of Sonny Rollins’s “Oleo” and Bobby Hebb’s “Sunny.”* Martino’s recovery from the effects of a brain aneurism more than thirty years ago is one of the great bad news/good news stories in the jazz world. The good news is that he fought back through serious memory loss to learn the guitar all over again and reestablish himself as one of the instrument’s finest players. This concert made that clear.
Another established firm took over when pianist Kenny Barron (pictured at rehearsal) brought bassist Kyoshi Kitagawa and drummer Jonathan Blake to the stage. As if he had inherited a portion of Bud Powell’s manic energy, Barron tore into “Bud Like,” his composition named with Powell in mind. He unquestionably makes use of Powell’s way with harmony, although Barron’s softer keyboard touch is a major part of the individuality he brings to whatever he plays. “Lullaby,” another original, was a waltz in which Blake’s brushes provided a backdrop for Barron’s application of that touch and for the pianist’s ingenuity in deepening a tune’s harmonic interest. “Nightfall” was Barron’s tribute to the ballad’s composer, the late bassist Charlie Haden, with whom he recorded a memorable live duet album. Barron featured Kitagawa as a soloist in “New York Attitude,” an original Barron composition. It seems to reflect the city’s nervous energy and the lilt that New Yorkers often feel in the atmosphere and pace that energy creates. Kitagawa’s solo was attuned to the energy. The tempo was fast.
Kitagawa and Blake went to the wings for Barron’s unaccompanied medley of Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn pieces. He played one chorus each of the melodies of “Lotus Blossom,” “A Flower Is A Lovesome Thing,” “Melancholia” and “Star Crossed Lovers,” flowing from one to the next and investing them with rich harmonic underpinnings. With Kitagawa and Blake back, Barron played “Cook’s Bay,” a piece he wrote for the album Spirit Song, released in 2000. Kitagawa had another powerful solo. Called back for an encore, Barron kicked off a tempo and the trio went to work on a lightning-fast series of choruses on the changes of Gershwin’s “I Got Rhythm.” It was a breathtaking closer.
If you’d like to hear my Saturday conversation with Barron, go to Oregon Music News. The publication is archiving all of the festival’s Art Bar conversations.
*The initial post of this review mistakenly attributed the authorship of “Sunny” to Stevie Wonder. Thanks to knowledgeable readers Art Manchester and Bob Blumenthal for catching the error.