Bassist Joe Martin's Etoilee
is a family affair, as defined by both his muse and his musicians. The album's title is inspired by his youngest daughter's middle name, which is most likely derived from his wife's Parisian roots. Saxophonist Mark Turner
and pianist Kevin Hayes
performed on Martin's debut album Passage
(Fresh Sound New Talent, 2004), while Nasheet Waits
has played drums with him since the early 1990s. All of the songs recorded on Etoilee
are originals, and Martin clearly sought players he considered familiar, when composing eight songs influenced so deeply by family.
The album's opener, "A World Beyond," evokes a dreamy sense of adventure. Rather than a piano, Hayes plays a Fender Rhodes on this tune, a wise choice as the organ only exaggerates the aura of curiosity and wonderment. "Malida," an amalgamation of Martin's wife's and sons' names, is, if nothing else, a showcase for Waits' energetic drum work, while "Two Birds" is the first of the album's ballads, this one dedicated to Martin's parents. Turner draws out a series of tranquil, breathy notes, possibly in homage to Martin's father, who is a clarinetist. The following song, "Safe," departs from that smooth delivery, with the saxophonist expressing himself in staccato bursts, accompanied on piano by Hayes, who playfully matches him note for note.
The intricately-plotted "Long Winter" is a high point for the album, a nine-minute composition which begins slowly, drawing attention to itself without demanding it. Both Turner and Hayes find time to solo, following a deep bass ostinato which leads into the song's contrary melody. It concludes with lush cymbals shimmering into an unexpected arco bass finale which sees Martin taking up a bow.
The acoustics of Etoilee
are excellent; each string Martin plucks, each cymbal tapped by Waits and each key depressed by Hayes, is easily isolated by the ear. The sound is neither too warm nor too cool, finding a pleasant middle ground allowing listeners to focus entirely on the bassist's compositions. Etoilee
is an excellent bassist-led release, tempered with enough personality to leave the impression that Joe Martin had something unique to say on his third album since the turn of the millennium. Its feel is different to that of his contributions to other artist's works in the previous few years, such as Jerome Sabbagh
's No Filter
(Sunnyside Records, 2018), or Chris Potter
's The Dreamer Is The Dream
(ECM, 2017), giving the impression that Martin is a bit of a chameleon, adapting to whatever color the music of the moment demands. On Etoilee
however, the only colors the bassist shows are his own.