Barrett Martin Goes Global With Kim Thayil, Skerik, Peter Buck & More on ‘Scattered Diamonds’ (ALBUM REVIEW)

The prolific Barrett Martin is a Grammy-winning producer, drummer, and composer who sallies forth here with his band’s ninth album Scattered Diamonds. Martin provided a generous heaping of tracks here, making a lengthy CD that features 15 guest artists across its 17 tracks.  These artists reflect Martin’s global influences as they are singers and musicians from the Middle East, West Africa, and India as well as several jazz and rock musicians he has worked with over the years. 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.  Before turning to jazz in this millennium Martin was the drummer on the last two albums from Screaming Trees and post-grunge supergroup Mad Season. Since those days, Martin has traversed the globe with government-sponsored trips to Cuba, exploration of the Peruvian rainforest, collaborations with Brazilian singer Nando Reis, and visiting with tribes in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska. 

This album features configurations ranging from as few as five and as many as ten players.  Typically, and as we saw on Songs of the Firebird the ensemble is a ten-piece group that sounds as mighty as a big band.  These members all return although some are featured in guest/soloist roles. They include: Martin (drums, vibes, marimba, piano, percussion), Evan Flory-Barnes (upright bass), Andy Coe (guitar), Skerik (saxophone), Ryan Burns (piano, keyboards), Hans Tueber (saxophones), Dave Carter (trumpet), 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 Thayil (guitar solos). Seven of these players and two of the guests also appeared on The BMG’s previous release Transcendence.  On this one, Carter, Macdonald, Tueber and Diop are listed as guests along with those above and these new musicians: Rahim Alhaj (Grammy-nominated Iraqi oud master), Seth Amoaku (Ghanian master drummer), Paul Fischer (Seattle-based guitarist), Mehnaz Hoosein (Hindustani singer), Kanoa Kaluhiwa (New Mexico-based saxophonist), John Rangel (new Mexico-based pianist), Skerik (Seattle-based saxophonist) and Ben Thomas (Seattle-based vibraphonist). And, we see these two new names in the core band – Kevin Hudson (upright bass) and Joe Doria (Fender Rhodes).

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 Arctic. Use your imagination and be transported.

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