Recent Recordings by Area Artists

When I perused the 2022 Michigan Jazz Festival line-up, a new name came up — vocal improvisation clinician Ellie Martin. I looked her up, was impressed with her credentials and agreed that she would bring new perspective to the festival. Then Martin looked me up! We enjoyed a delightful lunch. I learned about her circuitous life and jazz journey leading her to Toledo. I re-welcomed her to the Southeastern Michigan jazz community. Along with the Michigan Jazz Festival, Martin has been welcomed by the Blue LLama Jazz Club and The Steinway Jazz Café. You are now invited to welcome her into your home with her debut recording of original music: Verdant (bandcamp). You’ll welcome a woman who was mentored by musicians you know and respect: Geri Allen, Jon Hendricks, April Tini, Ranee Lee, Nathan Davis and the members of The New York Voices — especially pianist and singer Peter Eldridge.

Verdant celebrates growth, change, challenges, triumphs, missteps and rectification. Martin’s songs draw from life experiences as a curious student, a cancer survivor, a dedicated wife and a young mother. Like Joni Mitchell, Betty Carter, Peggy Lee and Abbey Lincoln, Martin’s personal reflections have universal impact. As you listen, you realize her well-won wisdom.

Along with Southeastern Michigan venues, Martin is welcomed by musicians based in Ann Arbor and Detroit. Kurt Krahnke plays bass on Verdant; Andrew Bishop plays clarinet on two selections and one song features trumpeter Ben Wolkins. Martin’s husband, Olman Piedra — originally of Costa Rica and now Professor of Percussion and Drum Set at University of Toledo — is a member of Tumbao Bravo, The Lunar Octet and has recorded with NOMO and The Sphinx Orchestra. Martin’s national connections: pianist/singer Peter Eldridge and guitarist Keith Ganz worked well with local legends to interpret Ellie’s originality, spirituality and artistry.

Ahhh — the songs! I personally have wondered as a writer — can I bare personal pain, despair, the complexity of quotidian life, the quiet victories and my determination to persevere? Perhaps I cannot express my emotions, but Martin does so with courageous conviction. She revels in jazz-inflected improvisation, melodies inspired by classical impressionist composers, Latin-inspired rhythms, and well-crafted harmonies to express life experiences.

I’m drawn to her wistful reflections. Verdant offers four songs in this mood: “As Time Goes,” “Love Will Somehow Heal,” “Verdant” and “Moments.” Of note are the Debussy-inspired piano intro by Eldridge on “Verdant” and Andrew Bishop’s clarinet on “Love Will Somehow Heal.” For groove and upbeat joy, “Living for the Now,” “Renewal,” “Lady Liberty,” “Step into Your Essence” are a delightful listen. Krahnke’s bass-lines especially enhance “Renewal” and “Step into Your Essence.” For witty and creative jazz lyrics, check out Martin’s ode to jazz in Pittsburgh: “Steel City Eye.” She manages to rhyme Crawford Grill, The Hill, Mary Lou, freeways, special soul, Three Rivers and more into a cohesive lyric with a splendid scat chorus. It’s a tour de force. Throughout, Martin is in strong voice, hitting each challenging interval, expressing her full vocal range and sharing emotional impact sans melodrama. Verdant is a stunning debut recording of emotions, technique, passion and love of life.