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The New Cool: Barrett Martin finds inspiration on the edge for his latest album and book

Barrett Martin Group Stillpoint album cover
Album cover courtesy of the artist.
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The new album from the Barrett Martin Group was inspired by a year living next to the Strait of Juan de Fuca.

The Barrett Martin Group shrunk to a nearly solo project over the quarantine. Drummer, percussionist, songwriter Barrett Martin spent a year living with his wife in a remote cliff house overlooking the Strait of Juan de Fuca. The setting inspired a new book, "Stillpoint: Reflections From A Year On The Cliff," and an album he recorded and produced there, Stillpoint. Live shows next week include Jazzbones in Tacoma on Friday and the Royal Room in Seattle Saturday.

Martin's rhythmic-centered music takes a new path on Stillpoint, necessitated by the geographic solitude. The natural beauty of our region's rugged, forested waterfront has inspired a soundtrack that does justice to its subject. Powerful storms, mysterious wildlife and wild terrain are given voice in a musical tribute to the coastal region some locals refer to as Cascadia.

His fifth "Group" album since 2018, Martin wrote all the music and plays almost all the instruments: piano, vibraphone, marimba, gamelans, mbira, kalimba, steel drum, gongs, upright bass, various African, Brazilian and Cuban percussion and his drum kit.

Displaying a canny sense of arrangement, Martin added shakers, gamelans and Brazilian surdo drumming from his wife, Lisette Garcia. Finally, a key melodic ingredient finished the recipe: longtime Group member Dave Carter on trumpet.

Carter's beautiful, authoritative solos add an improvisational flair that reflects the always changing waters, forests and creatures of Cascadia. His horn often echoes the melodic and rhythmic patterns Martin has established with piano or voice, as on "Waves of Color" and "The Roaring Sea."

The heart of Stillpoint, though, is the complex blending of the drums. Martin will set up a pattern on one or more drums, then layer in vibraphone, marimba, steel drum, gamelan or any other variety of timbres. Remarkably, it takes active listening to pick out the details. Each song's drum motif has its own character, and images of waves, ships and seagulls — as on "Juan's Strait Swing" — are more quickly evoked than the complexity of the instrumental arrangement.

Stillpoint works as 15 songs on an album, but also acts as counterpoint to the book of 18 short stories Martin wrote in the same year's time. Concerts in Tacoma Oct. 8 and in Seattle Oct. 9 will include readings from the author to open the evening.

The concerts, followed by a performance in Portland Oct. 10, will be preceded by special guest appearances from Martin drumming with Fred Armisen's 8G Band on NBC's "Late Night with Seth Meyers" next Monday through Thursday.

There's a lot to celebrate for Barrett Martin, with TV appearances and simultaneous album and book releases. But the audiences at his upcoming concerts can celebrate the most important thing: finally getting together with an audience and making music.

The New Cool airs Fridays from 9 to 11 p.m., hosted by Abe Beeson and produced by KNKX Public Radio in Seattle, Wash.

Abe grew up in Western Washington, a 3rd generation Seattle/Tacoma kid. It was as a student at Pacific Lutheran University that Abe landed his first job at KNKX, editing and producing audio for news stories. It was a Christmas Day shift no one else wanted that gave Abe his first on-air experience which led to overnights, then Saturday afternoons, and started hosting Evening Jazz in 1998.
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