The beyond merely fabulous, multi-talented singer/songwriter Ellie Martin may be a new artist on the scene, making her recording debut with Verdant, a vibrant, 12-track musical journey chronicling life powerfully lived/embraced and challenges powerfully survived. Yet she’s hardly a newcomer in the jazz world, currently serving as the vocal jazz instructor at the University of Toledo and Toledo School for the Arts, having commanded stages at numerous Midwestern jazz festivals and throughout her career, performing alongside the likes of Geri Allen, Terri Lyne Carrington, Esperanza Spalding, New York Voices and Afro Blue.
Very importantly considering the prowess she showcases as a stylistically diverse, lyrically poetic musical storyteller is the fact that as a student at the University of Toledo, she worked closely with legendary lyricist and vocalist Jon Hendricks and wrote her master’s thesis and dissertation on him and his legendary group Lambert, Hendricks & Ross.
The impetus behind the album – a deeply intuitive collaboration with New York Voices’ Peter Eldridge (on piano) and a host of top regional musicians - was not simply deciding it was time to take her talents out of academia and into the mainstream. Life circumstances, specifically confronting and conquering cancer, made her feel time was of the essence, and a beautiful and empowering way to count her own blessings would be to make us more aware of our own through her beautiful and often rhythmically exotic original tunes.
Among the songs that seem best designed to facilitate gratitude is “Renewal,” a dreamlike, easy swinging tune that allows Ellie’s vocals to soar like lyrical angels while guitarist Ariel Kasler’s inventive solo and bassist Kurt Khranke’s plucky grooves keep us bound organically to earth. Another is the heartfelt closing ballad “Moments,” an appreciative tribute she wrote after her grandfather passed.
Along the way, the singer gives us two spirited tunes that capture the wild energy of her daughters (the speedy samba “Living For the Now,” the festive flamenco tinged “Lucianita,” sung expressively in Spanish), another that reminds us that “Love Somehow Will Heal,” a sobering jazz fusion flavored reflection on the outwardly hidden causes of divorce (“Never Will I Worry”) and for good measure, two powerful collective and personal empowering anthems (“Step Into Your Essence,” “Lady Liberty”).