Peter J. Martin – Waltz for the Wicked (2012)

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Australian guitarist Peter J. Martin is a player of enormous technical capability but also much lyrical strength, twin talents that make Waltz for the Wicked a deeply listenable adventure.

That sense of knowing when to push, but also when to let the music’s innate beauty unfold, likely traces back to Martin’s early years as a rock and pop sessions musician. He did arrangements for some of Australia’s leading recording artists, and even composed music for film and TV commercials.

At the same time, though, Martin was working as a lecturer in contemporary music composition at Southern Cross University – a stint that opens a window into the deeper conceptions running just beneath the surface on this new project.

For instance, “Blue Seduction,” the album opener, juxtaposes a cerulean guitar signature with a shivery rhythm – creating something that’s propulsive and yet somehow contemplative, as well. Already, Waltz for the Wicked has established both a charm and an endlessly appealing sense of freedom, sounding something like free jazz at times, and something like contemporary jazz at others – but rarely, if ever, like anything else.

Martin’s appropriately named “Bittersweet” finds him working in darker shades, with keyboardist Steve Russell and drummer Dave Sanders providing the quietest of quiet ruminations – like whispered entreaties. Martin delicately but deliberately explores his instrument, pulling out a series of devastatingly emotional thoughts.

“Scarlet Whispers” ramps up quickly, as Sanders establishes an assured, West Coast swing. Martin then effortlessly changes gears, unfurling a series of smooth and uncannily fluent lines, even as Russell offers a winking, humor-filled turn on the electric piano. Next, the title track finds a limpid-toned Martin and Co. skipping through a Pat Metheny-informed amalgam of soaring pop music and modern jazz.

Warwick Adeney, concertmaster for Australia’s Queensland Symphony Orchestra, leads a resonant string quartet on both “Shape of Clouds to Come” and “Undercurrent.” The group, featuring violinists Warwick Adeney and Christa Powell, viola player Bernard Hoey and cellist Patrick Murphy, provides a thrumming sense of expectation on “Shape of Clouds” – and then a sweeping, darkly emotional platform for Martin, who responds with some of his most pastoral, light-filled picking. James Cox’s percussion takes center stage midway through, working like splashes of color. When Martin returns, it’s with a furious run of bop-influenced lines. The quartet plays a similar role on the subsequent “Undercurrent,” drawing these keening lines as Martin works in impish counterpoint.

Meanwhile, “La Atrevida” begins with a complex polyrhythm before settling into a determined little groove that shows both brio and then (especially in Russell’s swaying turn at the keys) an inviting suppleness. “The Long Manhattan,” another ballad opportunity, is as gorgeous and considered as anything Jim Hall’s ever done. Then Russell and Sanders dig into a more soulful place for “Absolution,” giving Martin the chance to hit some grease-popping licks that would have brought a smile to Wes Montgomery’s face.

The group mixes and matches styles again on “Knights and Knots,” with Sanders working an insistent, almost locomotive rhythm while Russell and Martin explore different ends of the idiom. Martin bursts out with a series of progressions that are urgent and fizzy, like a post-war player, while Russell plays with a glib coolness – sounding every bit the late-1950s hipster. Jeremy O’Connor, making his third and final appearance on the double bass (after “Shape of Clouds to Come” and “La Atrevida”), is a limber, bouncing presence.

“Points of View” then closes out Waltz for the Wicked in twilight mystery, as Martin makes as much use of silence as he does the notes. Until the very end, he’s defying expectations.

Nick DeRiso

Nick DeRiso

Nick DeRiso has written for USA Today, American Songwriter, All About Jazz, and a host of others. Honored as columnist of the year five times by the Associated Press, Louisiana Press Association and Louisiana Sports Writers Association, he oversaw a daily section named Top 10 in the U.S. by the AP before co-founding Something Else! Nick is now associate editor of Ultimate Classic Rock.
Nick DeRiso
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