I wasn’t sure what to expect from Terrace Martin’s third major release, ‘Velvet Portraits’, as this multi-talented saxophonist, composer and arranger from LA was the sum of so many musical parts it was hard to know which direction these 14 tracks were destined to take me. But after a good few listens I knew there was no need for any apprehension.
This LP smacks of an artist who, a long time ago, decided to stand alone from the crowd and to diligently do his own thing in a completely original and, after having listened, brilliant way. In so doing he has attracted around him a family of musicians who also approach their craft in an original and innovative manner – Robert Glasper, Thundercat, Kendrick Lamar, ‘Sput’ Searight, Rose Gold and Keyon Harrold.
With his father – Curly Martin – being a notable jazz drummer and his mother a gospel singer his path into music was pretty much set. He progressed from child protégé to playing with the legendary drummer Billy Higgins in one short step and demonstrated his craft with Puff Daddy and gospel don Kirk Franklin. His production credits with Snoop Dogg, Herbie Hancock and Kendrick Lamar’s ‘To Pimp a Butterfly’ have catapulted him firmly into the limelight and have led him to bring all the strands of his musical career under one roof in the creation of the ‘Sounds Of Crenshaw’ imprint. His playing reminds me of the powerful fragility of Charles Lloyd – the type that never fails to catalyse an emotional response.
With all this this in mind we could have guessed that all points would lead to this 14 track opus. It opens with the cinematic overture that is the title track – a gentle lament for his beloved Crenshaw, a district of LA divided by Crenshaw Boulevard, noted as the epicentre of African American commerce in LA. ‘Valdez In The Country’ and ‘Push’ show his respect for one of Americas greatest singer songwriters (Donny Hathaway) and the enigmatic 60’s urban sound that defined the Temptations respectively. ‘With You’ and ‘Patiently Waiting’ cover opposite ends of the R’n’B spectrum from the contemporary to the authentic 60’s real soul sound (vocals from Uncle Chucc). ‘Curly Martin’ is an infectious laid back soul/jazz mix that has the Glasper trademark stamped all over it. ‘Turkey Taco’ is a mad P-funk, George Clinton influenced acid trip of a track that pays proper respect to the genre whilst ‘Never Enough’ is a stripped down new-age r’n’b affair for the now generation.
My favourite moments on the LP are wrapped up in the troubling but beautiful ‘Tribe Called West’, where my present trumpet player of choice, the Revive-Music crews, Keyon Harrold adds some serious weight to an already serious tune. Lalah Hathaway’s contribution on ‘Oakland’ is soulful and heartfelt whilst guitarist Marlon Williams has a Jimmy Ponder / O’Donnel Levy talkin’ guitar kinda vibe going on with the fantastic ‘Bromali’. Kamasi Washington never disappoints and with Rose Gold on vocals he makes the epic ‘Think Of You’ the standout tune on the LP. ‘Reverse’ – featuring Glasper and Candy West (a fantastic singer I met in New Orleans last year with Snarky Puppy) – and the impressive string laden ‘Mortal Man’ round off this set nicely.
Mr Martin displays all his musical influences for the world to see on this one and we are so glad he has. Mark this one under genius and something tells me this is the beginning of a very long and fruitful road for this talented young man.
Terrace Martin ‘Velvet Portraits’ Out Now on Sounds Of Crenshaw / Ropeadope