At 6:43 in Snarky Puppy's video for "Lingus," the closer on 2014's We Like It Here, Shaun Martin puts his head in hands. As Cory Henry climbs closer to the finale of a stratospheric keyboard solo, Martin's mock disgust -that "this dude" gesture- embodies what we're all feeling. At 7:15, he takes his headphones off as if to quit the band entirely, an ultimate showing of respect for his sectionmate's work. Smiles are never in short supply for the Pups, but Martin's often beams brightest, as distinct and wide-ranging as his keyboard work.
Seven Summers, Martin's debut as a leader, has been in the works for nearly a decade, but those years (since he penned second line-style opener "One Big Party" in his Dallas apartment) have been filled with longtime stints in both Snarky Puppy and gospel guru Kirk Franklin's band. Obviously Martin is no stranger to time management.
"This year has probably been the hardest," he told me via email. "Aside from being a husband and releasing my own endeavor, I produced another gospel record earlier this year, currently producing another Kirk Franklin record, about to do a European tour with the Pups, and still maintaining the music ministry at my church, Friendship-West Baptist Church, where I serve as the Director of Music." With a plate this full either he's mastered Siri or just lives for multitasking.
"Chasing dreams ain't never been no nine-to-five / I'm gon' keep rolling 'til the wheels fall off / it's the only thing that makes me feel alive," sings Geno Young on "All In A Day's Work," a testament to both Martin's innate joviality and his work ethic, which he honed early on with God's Property.
"That was when I learned that I could make a career out of my passion. Then, while still in college, I had the opportunity to work on Erykah Badu's Mama's Gun album. That's when I discovered that I also had a thing for producing and writing, as well as performing, so I figured I'd take a shot at it. A few Grammys later, I'm still here with no plans of leaving anytime soon." If his own compositions are any indication, Martin is just starting to spread his wings.
Although Seven Summers features his unmistakable Moog skills, Martin really shines on piano, trading solos with Robert "Sput" Searight on "The Torrent" and keeping the Horace Silver vibes alive on "Lotus." A trio of vocal numbers forms the centerpiece of the album, with guest singers Nikki Ross, Claudia Melton and Adrian Hulet backed by lush string arrangements. "I tried to present a certain level of camaraderie because we all are so close and intertwined day in and day out," says Martin of his band.
"Most of everybody on here is someone I've known for 15 years or more. College roommates, friends of friends, band mates in other endeavors, neighbors, childhood friends." That attitude, which mirrors what Martin calls Snarky Puppy's "conglomerate" structure, means that inspiration and motivation are constantly being transferred from player to player, a dynamic that has captivated audiences around the world.
While plans to tour on Seven Summers are still being worked out, Martin is staying inspired by both his colleagues, like Snarky captain and fellow workaholic Michael League -whose early encouragement pushed him to "do something to hush [League's] nagging"- and by a flood of new jazz-esque music. His Recently Played iTunes looks something like: fellow Texans Robert Glasper and RC and the Gritz, R&B innovator D'Angelo, Melbourne polyrhythmic gangsters Hiatus Kaiyote, and the dense brilliance of Kendrick Lamar's To Pimp A Butterfly and its musical navigator Terrace Martin.
You've heard his playing for over a decade, but it'll be hard not to notice Shaun Martin this year. If he's not tearing the roof off the sucker, he'll have gems like "Madiba" hitting eardrums on July 7th, continuing the big party that he began planning seven years ago.
Here's the video for "Lotus," directed by Andy LaViolette: