Any die hard Kendrick Lamar fan will immediately recognize the name of this artist. Terrace Martin is a saxophonist/music producer that hails from none other than Los Angeles, California. Martin has been in the music game for a minute now, but perhaps is most well known for his collaborative work with Lamar. He was even able to pull in a Grammy win thanks to his work on To Pimp A Butterfly, an album that he was very heavily involved in. Martin has a very recognizable sound. My first introduction to this sound was on “Ab-Soul’s Outro”, a cut off of Kendrick Lamar’s Section .80 (which by the way will be 5 years old on July 2nd). This track is peppered with flutters of saxophone licks and rapid, urgent percussion, and is driven with synths that bring the West Coast sound to life. Martin has since continued to progress on this sound on solo projects such as 3ChordFold and Times. Now Martin returns in 2016 with a new solo project off his newly formed label, Sounds of Crenshaw. Velvet Portraits is beautiful display of Martin’s appreciation for his influences, as well as his hometown of Crenshaw.
The title track of this album serves as the intro, and although it is short, it packs a punch. The synchronized vocals, along with the wailing saxophone are certainly very reminiscent of To Pimp A Butterfly, and even pack similar emotional vibes. This track, along with several others on this project, come off very cinematic. To the point where they may even send chills up your spine (in a good way). The intro specifically comes off very epic, and really sets the tone for the rest of the project. Martin carries these vibes up to the very end of the project with “Mortal Man”. This track is most likely an alternate version of the Kendrick Lamar song of the same name. Like Lamar’s cut, it comes off very cinematic and inspiring, making it a great closer for the album.
One of the aspects that makes this album so entertaining is the fact that there is a lot of genre blending. Martin does his own take on genres ranging from soul, to old-fashioned g-funk. However, for this very reason, it is hard to even place this album in the hip-hop category. Nonetheless, Martin’s experimentation with these genres generates some pretty exciting cuts, one of these being “Turkey Taco”. This is a head-knocker that’ll give g-funk fans waves of nostalgia. Another track on this project that stands out for its genre alone is “Push”. I’ll admit, I was not expecting something like this on a Terrace Martin project. The track sounds like something straight out of a soul/gospel album. However it comes together as an extremely energetic and inspirational track.
I guess what really moved me about this album was simply the pure beauty of some of these tracks. As I alluded to earlier, many of these songs are extremely cinematic, and thanks to appearances from notable jazz musicians such as Robert Glasper, Kamasi Washington, Thundercat, and Lalah Hathaway, these tracks get amplified to another stature. This is very apparent on the song “Reverse”, where Glasper’s piano melodies are chopped and reversed to mix with Martin’s faded saxophone melodies to create an absolutely gorgeous sounding track. There is also a very notable Kamasi Washington sax solo on the track “Think About You”.
Like I said, there is a lot of beauty to appreciate on this album. What makes this beauty even more appreciative is the fact that it is coming out of a location that has seen some of the darker periods in American history, and is still seeing some of these same problems today. In a genre that sometimes glorifies these issues, it is refreshing to see an artist take an alternative point of view. With a track like “Valdez Off Crenshaw”, you can practically envision yourself cruising down Crenshaw Boulevard while catching views of the Mural of African-American Progress. This album makes you treasure this southwestern district of Los Angeles, rather than fear it. So maybe take a break for a moment from your usual West Coast gangster rap, and give this elegant display of jazz and Crenshaw culture a listen.