Nexus sheds light on an underappreciated partnership — guitarist Pat Martino’s decade-long collaboration with pianist Jim Ridl. The revered Philadelphia six-stringer and the North Dakota-bred pianist, who first connected at a Ridl gig in 1994, are captured during shows recorded at Philly’s Tin Angel in the mid-’90s. They’re musically simpatico, clearly attuned to one another’s approach, and Ridl’s somewhat brighter sound complements Martino’s warm tones. Both are gifted improvisers, too, and each knows how to accompany in an urgent, inventive manner that pushes the other to greater musical heights.
The program offers a mix of familiar tunes and originals. It opens with Martino’s “Recollection,” one of two tracks from his 1994 album Interchange, which featured a quartet with Ridl. With its catchy melody and descending progression, the tune provides Martino with plenty of space to improvise. His lines are remarkably agile and fluid, sprinting but always searching. His comping is similarly appealing, as he uses hard hits and sustain to push Ridl’s free-flying solo.
Martino’s “Country Road,” skewing left of jazz, is a mellow Americana-doused ballad, built on chords that seem to cycle and recycle, sometimes landing in unexpected places. And his “Interchange” also unfolds at a relaxed pace, eventually giving way to the guitarist’s flood of long, interconnected phrases. The set also includes a pair of Ridl tunes — the leapfrogging, blues-edged “Tenetree,” on which Martino references Wes Montgomery; and the gentle, elegant “Sun on My Hands.” Three tracks round out the disc: a romp through Harold Mabern’s “The Phineas Trane,” with its speedy unison bebop head; a fast and furious run through Sonny Rollins’ “Oleo”; and a pretty take on Coltrane’s “Naima.” Are there more Martino-Ridl recordings where these came from? We can hope. —Philip Booth