Latin Grammy winner with Tumwater roots comes home to launch new album

Seattle drummer Barrett Martin jammed recently with Duff McKagan of Guns & Roses.
Seattle drummer Barrett Martin jammed recently with Duff McKagan of Guns & Roses. Courtesy

Music has taken drummer Barrett Martin from Seattle’s grunge scene to the Amazon jungle, but the Latin Grammy winner’s life journey began in Tumwater.

Martin, who’ll play Friday in Olympia, is a legendary figure on the Seattle music scene for his work with Screaming Trees, R.E.M., Stone Temple Pilots, Queens of the Stone Age and many more. He’s played with Pearl Jam’s Mike McCready and Guns N’ Roses’ Duff McKagan, who told Rolling Stone that Martin is the best at what he does.

Also a composer and producer, Martin produced and played on Nando Reis’s “Jardim-Pomar,” which in November garnered the Latin Grammy for Best Portuguese Rock or Alternative Album.

Friday’s show is a release party for the Barrett Martin Group’s “Transcendence,” which already had a song at No. 2 on Spotify’s State of Jazz playlist last week. The show also is a showcase for other musicians on Martin’s Sunyata label.

And it’s a rare hometown appearance, though Martin comes south often to visit his parents, Brian and Deana Martin of Olympia, and his siblings, Amy Martin of Olympia and Brandon Martin of Littlerock.

“I’ve only played in Olympia about two times in about 25 years,” Barrett Martin said in a recent phone interview. The first of those was a 1997 show with the Screaming Trees, whom Spin magazine called “Seattle’s unsung heroes.”

While he’s best known as a rock drummer, he’s played on more than 100 albums in genres including world music, jazz and blues. He’s been a jazz man since he was a boy, getting his start at Tumwater High School, where he played in the jazz band and was drum major of the marching band, which won the state marching-band championship in 1985, his senior year.

Though he’s learned about music from talented people all over the world, Martin is still grateful for the musical education he received from Denny Womac, then the high school’s music director and now retired.

“He’s a Marine — like they say, there’s no such thing as an ex-Marine — and he’s an incredible trumpet player,” Martin said. “He taught us with an incredible musical knowledge but also real discipline.

“He’s one of the most inspirational people that I ever studied with, and I was fortunate that I got that in high school.”

“Transcendence” weaves together threads from Martin’s long career, incorporating rhythms from Brazil, Cuba and West Africa, and bringing together some of the many notables — from regional to international — with whom he’s collaborated over the decades.

Among them: R.E.M. guitarist Peter Buck (who also played on “Jardim-Pomar”), Queens of the Stone Age guitarist Dave Catching, jazz legend Wayne Horvitz and Senegalese drum master Thione Diop. (Diop, who’s part of the Barrett Martin Group, is the only one of those who’ll play this weekend in Olympia.)

“Transcendence,” which blends jazz, rock, world and ambient sounds, is a concept album about spiritual evolution — a theme that comes from Martin’s experiences both musical and personal.

He’s a Buddhist monk and has traveled much of the world, touring with a Brazilian rock band, trance drumming in Central America and recording shamanic music in the Peruvian Amazon. He’s chronicled many of these adventures in his book “The Singing Earth,” published by Sunyata.

“Transcendence” also is an album to dance to, he said. “Our songs are very much built around rhythm.”

The Olympia show, where the album will be performed in full, will feature drums — and drummers — of three cultures: Martin on a drum set, Diop on African drums and Lisette Garcia, who’s Martin’s wife, playing Latin percussion.

Also in the band are bassist Evan Flory-Barnes, guitarist Andy Coe, pianist Ryan Burns, sax player Hans Teuber and trumpeter Dave Carter.

“I basically put a band together of the best players in the Pacific Northwest,” he said.

As passionate as he is about his band and his music, Martin sounds at least as excited about the lineup’s other bands, including East Los Angeles-based All Souls, which also is celebrating an album release. Also on the lineup are Seattle folk rockers Vaudeville Etiquette and New Orleans singer-songwriter Noelle Tannen.

In his Olympian interview, he talked about the other bands before his own.

“I’m bringing some world-class bands to play my hometown,” he said. “It’s a musical variety show.”

Barrett Martin

The Latin Grammy-winning drummer, a Tumwater native, hosts a celebration of the release of a new album, “Transcendence,” as the Barrett Martin Group headlines a showcase of artists — Noelle Tannen, Vaudeville Etiquette and All Souls — on Martin’s label, Sunyata.

When: 9 p.m. Friday

Where: Rhythm & Rye, 311 Capitol Way N, Olympia

Tickets: $10 at the door

More information: 360-705-0760, barrettmartin.com