Seattle Based/Grammy-Winning Percussionist Barrett Martin and His Barrett Martin Group Release ‘Songs of the Firebird’

Don’t let the name fool you. The Seattle-based Barrett Martin Group (BMG)is not a law firm or a real estate office. Of course, it’s not, but the staid nature of the name, unfortunately, conjures up those boring references when the music is anything but. It’s demonstrative, thrilling, exotic, and eminently accessible. Barrett Martin is a Grammy-winning producer, drummer, and composer who sallies forth here with his band’s seventh album Songs of the Firebird. One does not often find 20 tracks on a jazz CD but that’s because these are companion songs to Martin’s recently authored book, The Way of the Zen Cowboy: Fireside Stories from a Globetrotting Rhythmatist.

The ten-piece group is an ensemble that sounds as mighty as a big band. Members include: Martin (drums, vibes, marimba, piano, percussion), Evan Flory-Barnes (upright bass), Andy Coe (guitar), Ryan Burns (piano, keyboards), Hans Tueber (saxophones), Dave Carter(trumpet), Dune Butler (bowed bass), Thione Diop (Congas, bata, cajon, talking drum), Lisette Garcia(various percussion) and Curtis MacDonald (alto saxophone. Special guests include Peter Buck (guitar, REM), Wayne Horvitz (keyboard solos) and Kim Thayl (guitar solos). Seven of these players and two of the guests appeared on The BMG’s previous release Transcendence.

You’ve undoubtedly heard Martin before. He’s a renowned session drummer and percussionist who has appeared on over 100 jazz, rock, blues, and world music albums. Here are a few of the familiar names that he’s played with: REM, Queens of the Stone Age, Brazilian singer Nando Reis, Delta blues legend CeDell Davis and Luna. Suffice it to say that Barret performs in a variety of settings, evidenced by his recent Latin Grammy win for his production and drum work on the Brazilian album Jardim-Pomar. Yes, exotic percussion is an indelible part of the band’s sound that incorporates American jazz and blues with African, Brazilian and Cuban rhythms along with traces of classical and ambient music. Percussion instruments, for example, include Indonesian gamelans, marimbas, kalimbas, and countless others, many handmade.

As Barrett describes the band’s unique sound: “I started out with a Jazz and Classical music education, and I carried those influences with me when I started working as a studio musician and producer. Years later I studied ethnomusicology, both in graduate school and around the world, so those forms of music began to influence how I composed and produced music. By the time I started the BMG, I had synthesized many forms of world music, so we have this Jazz-Blues-World music approach to the songs, but there’s also a variety of rhythmic influences from my experience as a drummer, so it’s a very colorful and nuanced band, and very emotive. Most importantly, our music seems to resonate with people around the world, from all different cultures, so I think we’re on to something.”

These 20 instrumentals are as accessible as anything you’ll hear in jazz as The BMG is focused on ensemble playing and the shorter length of these tracks doesn’t allow much stretching out. On average each runs four minutes, giving the CD a maximum length of 80 minutes. The songs are intended as soundtracks for the narrative of the new book (details below). Careful listening and the addition of three musicians since Transcendence reveal a slightly more adventurous outing this time. Not only do we hear modern jazz and Afro-Latin rhythms, but we get a little more ambient and electronic music mixed in.

The other aspect of this effort that makes the music brim with a rather unpredictable intensity is the use of guest musicians. Notable fellow Seattle-based Wayne Horvitz (composer, keyboardist and record producer) who first came to prominence in New York working with John Zorn’s Naked City, solos on “Down in the Streets” and “Mantra Electronica.” Soundgarden guitarist Kim Thayl solos on “A Magnificent Seven,” “The Firebird” and “Requiem” while REM guitarist Peter Buck also adds his acoustic guitar to the latter.

The book is a collection of 35 short stories, as alluded to previously, based on Martin’s personal global experience as well as wisdom tales heard directly from his indigenous elders, his grandparents, and some of the cowboys and veterans who mentored him. These stories are built around seven themes that are highly important in the development of the human being. A purchase of the book will include a digital download of this album. As you read or listen, you will experience sonic landscapes across the American West, as far south as the Amazon Rainforest and as far north as the Alaskan Artic. Use your imagination and be transported.

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