A decade ago he showed what he was capable of doing in front of a live audience with a top shelf supporting cast (Joey DeFrancesco, Billy Hart) with his Live At Yoshi's release. With his long-awaited followup to 2006's Remember: A Tribute to Wes Montgomery, he does it again with Undeniable.
A 2009 engagement at Washington, D.C.'s Blues Alley, this set makes a even swap of organists and drummers: this time it's Tony Monaco and Jeff 'Tain' Watts, respectively. The X" factor is the addition of another front line player in saxophonist Eric Alexander, a perfect choice given he is one of the few saxophonists of his generation to be heavily influenced by the more soulful saxophonists who came before Coltrane. Undeniable is very straight ahead, very blues-based and a very dazzling display of Martino's unmatched acumen as a bop guitarist.
With the exception of Thelonious Monk's Round Midnight," it's all Martino compositions, with going back as far as his second album Strings! from 1967. On the former, Martino, with Monaco and Watts way in the back and Alexander sittin' out, caresses that melody in an inspired, sensitive way. The latter selection, Lean Years," (Youtube below) swings with a confident ease more so than the original, and Martino pulls out the stops on his solo: a soul-scorching, sparkling display of fretwork that no one else can replicate.
Martino has also mastered the art of inserting little repeating patterns within a solo better than anyone, and the ones he does on Goin' To A Meeting," Double Play" and Midnight Special" got the audience revved up in appreciation. Monaco brings a more tempered disposition to the organ than DeFrancesco and his bass lines are bang on, but he can bring the church when it's called for as he does for Meeting." Watts displays yet another facet of his loaded skill set in this organ combo, working telepathically with Martino by subtlety controlling the cadence and tempo in a way that makes the guitarist sound even better. Alexander combines with Martino for snappy unison lines and his burly, buttery tenor makes a fine foil to those biting guitar lines.
By now, it should be pretty clear why this album is called Undeniable. Martino, at 67, is playing with the vitality and hunger he had at 27. Now as then, you can't deny the man's talent.