Determined to meet his jazz idols, Martino set out for Harlem at the young age of 15 and quickly settled into a busy schedule playing with masters of the Hammond B-3 organ. Traces of those soul-jazz origins can still be heard on the guitarist’s 1967 debut for Prestige, El Hombre, featuring Philly organist Trudy Pitts. The album’s unique lineup finds Martino already pushing into new terrain however, with a guitar/flute out front and a percussion-heavy rhythm section supplying powerful propulsion for the leader’s quicksilver lines.
El Hombre is a formative album for any budding jazz guitarist, and one of my personal favorites of the genre. 55 years later, it remains a towering debut from a young player who was already flirting with virtuoso status, and his career would only ascend from there. You can also read some of the accolades from his peers in Downbeat, it’s clear he was highly respected and well-liked in musician circles. Rest in peace, Mr. Martino, there will never be another like you.