Record Press: Terrace Martin

Five tracks to introduce Terrace Martin, the writer, musician and producer ahead of his appearance at Band On The Wall with The Polly Seeds in November.

Ben Smith

Date published: 12th Aug 2016

Image: Terrace Martin 

Terrace Martin had been quietly plying his trade for over a decade, producing music for artists like Snoop Dogg and Lalah Hathaway, before his work on Kendrick Lamar's critically lauded sophomore album To Pimp a Butterfly brought him international recognition.

The album, which made a monumental impact even exceeding Lamar's expectations was set apart by its remarkable production aesthetic; harnessing the jazz, funk and R&B styles that have always been present in rap music, but representing them with a musicality that is almost unprecedented in the genre. Martin's distinctive alto saxophone playing is all over the record, contributing greatly to this aesthetic.

His latest solo album, Velvet Portraits, is a treasure trove for Kendrick Lamar fans, featuring many of the musical motifs and distinctive production styles that adorned To Pimp a Butterfly, but also rewarding fans of jazz in many of its forms, featuring a variety of excellent compositions, executed by some phenomenal musicians and vocalists.

Like much of Kendrick Lamar's music, the album is indebted to Crenshaw and neighbouring districts of Southwestern Los Angeles for its inspiration.

Martin describes the sound of Crenshaw as being "like a gumbo", comprised of the "R&B, Funk and Soul to Hip-Hop and Gangsta Rap" that have come before, so it's no surprise that they are channeled unmistakably through this record.

Alongside Ropeadope records, Martin has established the Sounds of Crenshaw label, which is a platform for his work and that of others involved in the explosive L.A. scene.

Ahead of his first show at Band on the Wall on Monday 14th November with The Poppy Seeds, a band featuring vocalist Anna Wise and a selection of fine jazz musicians, Joshua French selects five tracks which provide a perfect introduction to Terrace Martin, the musician, writer and producer.

Kendrick Lamar 'For Free?'

Martin's distinctive alto saxophone lines are the first notes to catch the ear on this Kendrick Lamar number, which, when listening to To Pimp a Butterfly sequentially, is the first real indication of how important jazz is to the fabric of the record.

The track was produced by Terrace, who decorates the core piano trio with saxophone, electric guitar and a gospel choir, creating an emphatic be-bop instrumental for Lamar's novel and theatrical vocal to play off.

Terrace Martin 'Valdez Off Crensaw'

Valdez Off Crenshaw is a statement piece, displaying the fusion that Martin talks about when discussing the music of Crenshaw. From the funky clavinova and soulful organ, to the G-Funk synth lines and subtle underpinning Fender rhodes (provided by Snarky Puppy's Robert 'Sput' Searight), the track is subtle and melodic, warm and grooving, with Martin's signature doubled saxophone sound taking centre stage during the breakdown.

Lalah Hathaway '1 Mile'

One of two tracks from Lalah Hathaway's Self Portrait produced by Terrace Martin. Again, L.A. bleeds into the production, which is an off-kilter hip hop groove layered with hand percussion and bubbling keys, allowing Hathaway's incredible voice to shine through. Hathaway's sound is clearly a favourite of Lamar and Martin, as she featured on Velvet Portraits and To Pimp a Butterfly.

Terrace Martin 'Curly Martin ft. Robert Glasper, Thundercat and Ronald Bruner Jr.'

Curly Martin, jazz drummer and father of Terrace Martin, features in the core band on Velvet Portraits, but guest drummer Ronald Bruner takes the lead on the track which bares his name, playing a hyperactive groove to underpin the track's warm, jazz-funk melodies. Martin's vocoder work is another example of a sound recognisable from To Pimp a Butterfly.

Kendrick Lamar 'Untitled 05 (09/21/14)'

Prior to its release, the demos featuring on Untitled Unmastered were referred to as "the secrets"; the songs that gave a strong indication of where To Pimp a Butterfly's influences lay. Martin co-produced and played on this early recording, which demonstrates how much went into crafting the instrumental direction of the record.

He recognises the influence of fellow collaborator Robert Glasper on this track, suggesting that his piano work on it sounds much like his.

Find Terrace Martin & The Polly Seeds at Band On The Wall on Monday 14th November tickets via the box below. 

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