With his jazz background, Barrett Martin has always been a different type of drummer to other well-known Seattle mainstays wielding their drumsticks: during his time in Screaming Trees and with Mad Season, he revealed his ear for tribal rhythms, never better exemplified than how live he added extra depth, groove and propulsion to the lengthy jam of ‘All Alone’ and ‘November Hotel’ from the latter band’s timeless Above album.
Last year one of his slow-rolling side-projects, Tuatara,* released their seventh album, Underworld, produced by Martin himself; Tuatara also includes Justin Harwood, Mike McCready, Peter Buck and Skerik on various tracks (the latter was, among other things, the saxophonist when Mad Season gigged). Martin was interviewed by Classic Rock about the band, writing and producing Underworld, the Seattle music scene then and now, and some of the musicians he’s played with before (it’s quite a list). I won’t rehash what he says in the interview; he’s a thoughtful man (as witnessed by his eloquent sleeve notes for the Above deluxe reissue) and is worth a hearing.
With its eclectic and global mix of instruments and influences – Balinese gamelans get a dusting off, alongside the sitar, Peruvian ocarinas and the Japanese koto – jostling alongside Martin’s jazz leanings (nice), the 20-track double album was well-received: 4 stars from Mojo and 4Ks from Kerrang! Although there are no vocals, there are also no lengthy jams; each song is focused and composed. Thematically, Underworld is a two-part album (‘Shadows’ and ‘Echoes’) about, well, the underworld and its ubiquity, with its myriad names across cultures and continents:
It is the antipode of the living earth, the mythical abode of the dead, a place of departed souls and wandering spirits, where deities and demigods battle with shamans and medicine men for spiritual supremacy. A place where paradoxes become law, riddles become truth, and wisdom is only gained by pursuing the hardest path. This is the realm of shades, a world of shadows and echoes, and that is where our story takes place. It’s also where the most interesting stuff happens…
To promote the album, this group of classy musicians played several tracks live for KEXP Radio back in September, along with an interview with Martin about the evolution of the band and a general discussion among all the musicians about their broad influences and experiences. It’s a relaxed vibe; their willingness to embrace and learn from as diverse a range of sounds and rhythms as possible is striking.
You can get hold of Underworld here from Martin’s own Sunyata Records.
* In my ignorance, I had to look up what a tuatara is: from the Maori word for ‘peaks on the back’, a reptile endemic to New Zealand, important in the study of the evolution of lizards and snakes. So there you go.
** ‘The Skeleton Getdown’, ‘Dueling Shamans’ (replete with trademark McCready solo), ‘Snakecharmer’ and ‘Gremlin Chain Gang’