A career in soul or jazz music was about the farthest thing from the mind of a young Ian Martin, the son of a Pentecostal minister living with his Jamaican/Canadian family in Toronto. There were no "black music" stations in Toronto at the time and even if there were, secular music was generally forbidden in his strict household. To hear non-Gospel music Ian had to visit his uncle's record collection or try to pick up a Buffalo, New York station on the radio.
As a teen, a friend played for Ian an album by British pop/soul group Level 42, and he had an epiphany and a new desire to find out about jazz and soul music. His parents moved to East Africa to missionary work and Ian stayed behind to attend the prestigious Berklee College of Music in Boston. After graduating, he moved to Los Angeles, where he began a career as a noted bassist. Around that time he also independently released his debut album, One, which received good notice internationally.
In 2005, after a five year recording absence, Martin released his sophomore album, The Way. Reminiscent of some of the great Quincy Jones albums of the 70s and 80s, on The Way Martin brings together great musicians like guitarist Craig T. Cooper and fine vocalist such as Sy Smith and Gavin Christopher to support an album largely written, produced and arranged by Martin. And the result is one of the best jazz/soul crossover albums of the year.
Like the great producers, Martin coaxes fantastic work from his guests, whether it is the sultry singing of Kes Stanton and the fine organ of Tim Carmon on the cool "So In Love," the beautiful Matt Rohde piano work on the Philly-style ballad "Let Me Give You More," or the Patti Austin-like vocals of Robin McKelle on "Movin' On," the performances are simply top notch front-to-back. And the compositions are equally strong. Best of all is "Brother," a wonderful mid-tempo number that Christopher nails vocally (sounding a bit like Ali Ollie Woodson).
While many smooth jazz artists have made their living for years churning out template albums of jazzy soul covers with guest vocalists, few artists have recreated the originality and cohesion of the Quincy Jones and Norman Connors albums of a quarter century ago. The Way succeeds wonderfully in this vein and makes Martin's case that he is a broadly talented writer/producer and artist who has a very bright future. Highly recommended.
By Chris Rizik