With Velvet Portraits, Martin continues on his quest to become a modern jazz-fusion great while also giving a nod to his Los Angeles roots in the process.
Like Knxwledge and Anna Wise, Terrace Martin’s rise in popularity is partially due to being on Kendrick Lamar’s critically acclaimed album, To Pimp a Butterfly. As the main jazz saxophonist during its production, Martin was arguably the second most important artist besides Kendrick himself to establish the unique jazz-trap sound that defines the album, playing an integral role in the “Alright” single as well as “For Free (Interlude)”. However, while To Pimp a Butterfly is easily one of the best and most innovative hip-hop releases of this decade thus far, it would be wrong to categorize Terrace Martin as simply a studio jazz musician, especially since Times and 3ChordFold showed the saxophonist rubbing shoulders with contemporaries ranging from jazz pianist Robert Glasper to singer James Fauntleroy and legendary Californian rapper Snoop Dogg. With Velvet Portraits, Martin continues on his quest to become a modern jazz-fusion great while also giving a nod to his Los Angeles roots in the process.
For a jazz saxophonist as well respected as Terrace Martin, there is surprisingly few horn solos on Velvet Portraits. With a few exceptions, this album as a whole sacrifices its jazzier qualities in exchange for more G-Funk, soul and gospel-inspired tracks. “Patiently Waiting” is an organ-driven gospel tune, with some great vocals by Uncle Chucc and some nice saxophone embellishments by Martin. “Push”, meanwhile, offers up a heavy funk groove and some soulful female vocals that come straight out of the Stevie Wonder playbook, while “Valdez off Crenshaw” has an instrumental that could have been made by George Clinton’s Parliament-Funkadelic and features a grandiose, over-the-top electric guitar solo that sweeps over the entire track. These excellent songs are indicative of Martin’s high level of genre blending, experimentation, and collaborations that are showcased across all fourteen tracks.
Granted, Terrace Martin seems much more interested in jazz funk fusions than other musical combinations, saturating Velvet Portraits in a G-Funk sound that Dr. Dre would probably love to get his hands on. It’s understandable, since Martin himself is from Los Angeles, and funk-inspired tracks like “Turkey Taco”, “Think of You”, and “With You” are easily some of the greatest musical moments that this album has to offer. Still, “Curly Martin”, “Oakland”, and “Bromali”, among others, are enough of a reminder that Terrace Martin is, at his core, a jazz musician first and foremost.
“Mortal Man”, in comparison to these aforementioned songs, embodies all of the album’s major flaws. Named after the closer on To Pimp a Butterfly, this nearly 12-minute track isn’t much more than an instrumental, alternate take on the song it was named after. Like the rest of Velvet Portraits, “Mortal Man” is laid-back and musically sound, but the lack of interesting chord progressions or time signatures makes the song feel like a jam session or demo that somehow snuck its way into the track listing. Its aimlessness and long runtime not only make “Mortal Man” the most disappointing song on Velvet Portraits, but also ends up being a flat closing track to an otherwise very good album.
The best thing that can be said about Velvet Portraits is that it remains cohesive despite the numerous genres that Martin blends into each track. Nonetheless, by its end, the result is less satisfying than it should have been, primarily because the songs are as relaxed and easy-going as a Californian lounging on a beach. The album is self-aware enough to recognize this, and it makes sense to a degree considering that Velvet Portraits is almost as much an ode to the West Coast as Red Hot Chili Pepper’s Californication. However, without the extra spice or flare from Martin’s saxophone or any of the guest appearances, Velvet Portraits is relatively uneventful, even if it is pleasant on the ears, making it a good, unassuming album rather than the bold, vibrant one that it could have been.