I get a lot of albums sent to me these days as my reputation has happily been growing as a music reviewer over the years. Given that I currently have limited space to write each week here on AudiophileReview.com, I’m pretty selective about what I actually report on, generally focusing on things that I like versus offering negative criticism.
Amidst the barrage of independent and smaller label releases, every now and then something interesting pops up out of left field that is worthy of your attention. The new release from the Barrett Martin Group is one such release: Songs of the Firebird, out now on Sunyata Records. If you are like I was prior to this release, you may not be aware of Barrett Martin. He has some serious music cred going on including winning a Latin Grammy in 2017 and playing in bands like Skin Yard, Screaming Trees as well as supergroup projects like Mad Season (with Mike McCready of Pearl Jam) and Tuatara (with Peter Buck of REM). He has a fascinating background which you can more read about at the wiki by clicking here.
Songs of the Firebird really pulled me in from the opening notes, swinging joyously with its slightly Afro beat flavored rhythms and orchestral arrangement this side of Charles Mingus. In fact, probably the highest compliment I can offer is that the opening track — “There is a Galaxy in Your Heart” — feels like an alternate universe twist on Mingus’ Ah Um sound (circa 1959), the album which gave us the classic tribute to the late great Saxophonist Lester Young: “Goodbye Pork Pie Hat.”
Looking at Barrett Martin’s website, it seems that this new album is linked to a new book titled “The Way Of The Zen Cowboy” (Sunyata Books, album download included), describing it as: “a new collection of short stories 35 tales in all which are based on Barrett’s personal experiences in environments around the world as well as wisdom tales heard directly from indigenous elders grandparents and some of the cowboys and veterans he was mentored by. These 35 stories are built around 7 themes that are highly important in the development of a human being particularly in the dramatic times in which we live.”
Other songs I am digging on Songs of the Firebird include “The Greatest Smile In The City” which works around a hypnotizing Kalimba riff. “A Magnificent Seven” is exactly that, a rolling epic in 7/4 time which reminds me at times (in a good way) of the hook riff from The Ides of March’s 1970 smash hit “Vehicle.”
Songs of the Firebird sounds real good as modern CDs go, delivering a full, round enjoyable big band jazz rock fusion sound this side of vintage early 70s Chicago, Blood Sweat & Tears and progressive underdogs like Happy The Man. There is an overriding flavor on this album that reminds me of a number of classic pop jazz fusion sounds of the early 70s: Maynard Ferguson to The Tonight Show’s house band.
Songs of the Firebird is not yet available on Tidal but you can find it on Amazon (click on any of the album titles in this article which will take you there).
If I have any complaint about Songs of the Firebird it is in fact its length. There is easily two albums worth of material here. Given the intricacy of the music, by the time you get to what would likely be the second disc in a two-LP or CD set, you can become a bit overwhelmed as a listener (at least I did). I would have rather this album had been broken up as two more digestible shorter single albums, or at least divided it up into two physica; CDs marking a clear delineation of sides. But that is a minor complaint in the grand scheme of thing — too much music!
All in all, the Barrett Martin Group’s Songs of the Firebird is a winner.