Equally at home behind the mixing desk, as well as behind a stack of keys or the mouthpiece of a saxophone, Terrace Martin has established himself as a rare talent in recent years.
Having cut his teeth producing for Snoop Dogg on his ‘R&G’ and ‘Ego Trippin’’ albums, Martin has since worked with Herbie Hancock, Quincy Jones, and perhaps most notoriously on Kendrick Lamar’s ‘To Pimp A Butterfly’ – taking a lead creative position in the project. With his influences spanning the jazz world as much as hip-hop, Martin has played a key role in the recent West Coast jazz resurgence, owing largely to the proliferation of noodling instrumental solos on Lamar’s ‘TPAB’, citing other players like Kamasi Washington, Thundercat and Robert Glasper as friends and frequent collaborators.
Putting this formidable network to good use then, Martin also creates his own music, releasing his first LP, ‘The Demo’, in 2010 and since going on to drop the G-Funk influenced ‘3ChordFold’ in 2013 and last year’s ‘Velvet Portraits’, which earned him a Grammy nomination in the R&B category. More twisted jazz-funk than R&B, ‘Velvet Portraits’, paid homage to Martin’s native Los Angeles, and especially the Crenshaw neighbourhood in his breezy take on Donny Hathaway’s ‘Valdez In The Country’, ‘Valdez Off Crenshaw’.
Martin’s latest record, ‘Sounds of Crenshaw Vol. 1’ furthers this geographical connection and also marks the beginning of a new collaborative project, The Pollyseeds. Comprised of a litany of the finest producers and musicians LA has to offer, including the aforementioned Robert Glasper and Kamasi Washington, as well as Snarky Puppy drummer Robert ‘Sput’ Searlight, Missy Elliott producer Craig Brockman, and singer-songwriter Rose Gold, The Pollyseeds embodies the creative confidence of a live jam session, helmed by Martin himself. Opening with the gentle Rhodes funk of ‘Chef E Dubble’, the listener is in familiar territory, channelling the synthesised saxophone lines and spacious production of ‘Velvet Portraits’ numbers like ‘Curly Martin’ and ‘Think Of You’.
As the record progresses though it meanders through different genres and influences, from the Warren G-style laid back groove of ‘Intentions’ to the vocoder-heavy cover of smooth jazz bassist Stanley Clarke’s ‘Funny How Time Flies’, and the plaintive, Bill Evans-esque piano and saxophone duet ‘Wake Up’. Rather than resulting in a jumbled collection of sonic experiments, ‘Sounds Of Crenshaw Vol. 1’ is tied together by Martin’s choice of instrumentation and groove-heavy arrangements. Keys interplay with keening saxophone lines, while compressed electric drum hits sit beneath vocoder vocals and soul falsetto, all combining to produce a unique, fresh mix.
Crenshaw becomes the perfect metaphor to represent the album itself. As a historically black and Latino neighbourhood, the Crenshaw Boulevard has variously been a home for displaced Japanese Americans after the WWII internments, a hotspot for low-rider culture in the 1960s and ‘70s, as well as a locus for ‘80s and ‘90s hip-hop, being immortalised in John Singleton’s iconic Boyz N The Hood’. The sound of the space is jazz, funk, soul, rap and more; all merged and heard on Martin’s record.
In effect, ‘Sounds Of Crenshaw Vol. 1’ is a sonic memoir, a collage of formative influences, as well as a representation of the area in which Martin grew up and where these influences came to bear. Although the second half of the record loses steam somewhat with a succession of slow R&B vocal numbers like ‘Your Space’ and ‘Feelings of the World’, ‘Sounds of Crenshaw Vol. 1’ largely maintains its coherence. Its slight messiness is representative of a life lived, something that in itself never coheres as a perfect narrative.
Words: Ammar Kalia
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