Eyes on the Horizon
"I wanna be James Dean with insolent lips" writes jazz and blues singer-songwriter Barbara Martin in her song "It's Too Late to Die Young," from her Eyes on the Horizon recording, and the lyrics and song title couldn't be more descriptive of a musician known for being an accomplished vocal interpreter of the great jazz and blues standards yet brave enough to stretch the boundaries of the female jazz and blues singer stereotype. Eyes on the Horizon was two years in the making. Part of the reason for this was Barbara's decision to use all original songs. She also wanted to use only the finest jazz musicians and was willing to wait till her and their busy schedules had openings. Robert Redd is on the piano with his brother, Chuck Redd on drums and vibes. Barbara's bassist from her Rare Bird Quartet of the 1990's, Steve Wolf returns on this album. Duo partner and recording engineer, Mac Walter, adds a classical guitar lead on 'I'm OK' and the CD ends with a co-write with Mac--the guitar/vocal 'Painting a Picture'. Bruce Swaim on saxophone, John Jensen on trombone and Matt Finley on flugel horn round out the roster of musicians. The songs range from bossas and a samba to swing, blues and ballads. From Jim Newsom, Portfolio Magazine: 'The ten-song setlist is all originals, filled with a lyrical sophistication and playfulness that continues to unfold with each listening. The band includes some of the best players from the DC/Annapolis/Baltimore jazz scene, including veteran Charlie Byrd sideman Chuck Redd on drums and vibes, and his brother Robert on piano. Martin's regular bassist Steve Wolf anchors the core trio but longtime collaborator Mac Walter, whose magnificent acoustic guitarwork is always a marvel to hear, appears in only a few places. This time out, Martin has chosen a more traditional piano trio motif with occasional horn accents. "Since You've Been Here" kicks things off with a blissfully light-hearted celebration of the myriad ways that life changes when you let another person into your life. "Too Late to Die Young" takes a bluesy ride over Wolf's walking bassline: "I want to be James Dean with insolent lips," the singer intones, "but it's too late to die young." John Jensen's boogie-woogie trombone solo accentuates Robert Redd's muscular piano comping. The title track is pure cocktail lounge-you can almost smell the cigar smoke wafting up from the back. The mood shifts to a playfully swinging samba on "Same Old World," followed by "Taking a Chance," a tune that starts off like a Vince Guaraldi theme for Charlie Brown before bouncing along on a smoothly melodic carpet of swing. Martin gets slow and sultry on "The Fire Burning in Me." Chuck Redd then picks up his mallets for some sweet vibraphonics on "I'm OK," setting up Walter's first appearance. The lyrics here define the tone of this record: "When life doesn't follow my wish-it-would-be's...I'm OK." "One for Me" is a jaunty stroll through loneliness tempered with an optimistically hopeful tinge. The last two cuts on the album accentuate Walter's gorgeous guitar playing, reminding a longtime listener of previous Barbara Martin outings. In fact, "Blue Storm" originally appeared on Different View, and the arrangements are similar though this version feels gentler, reflecting the subtle shift that Martin's vocal delivery has undergone in the intervening years. The disc closes with it's most beautiful song, "Painting a Picture," a voice and guitar duet the two cowrote, built on James Taylor-esque chording and a wistfully yearning from-the-road lyric. It's the perfect denouement to a pleasurable outing from one of Virginia's finest.