Three-O is Shaun Martin’s third album following 7 Summers and Focus, and naturally is a trio album. Shaun is a six-time Grammy award winner, three with Kirk Franklin and three with Snarky Puppy. That’s a lot of threes. Shaun is an amazing keyboardist and definitely his own man. Yet, one of the things that I enjoy about his music is that he is so versatile in his playing and has an uncanny way of playing new songs in a familiar sounding way. He reminds me of what Joe Sample, another Texas keyboardist know for work with The Crusaders and as a solo performer once said during a live performance, “I’m in demand as a studio musician because I just play what I feel, whatever the music calls for.” Each of the songs on this excellent album are uniquely Shaun, but I can’t help but relating to some of the great keyboardists I’ve listened to my whole life. Here’s my track-by-track rundown with links back to some familiar sounds.
Kaleidoscope: Shaun starts off super funky as the trio starts off balanced before Shaun blasts off on synth which for me immediately conjures Summer Madness from Kool and the Gang albeit at a much faster pace. Most of this tune has Shaun bouncing on synth with a Herbie Hancock electric feel. The break has an excellent solo from Matt Ramsey on bass. Shaun shifts back a piano and synth soaring finale.
Liberty of the Rising Son: Here’s a great example of a big sound, created by just a trio with Shaun double handed on synth and piano keys. Shaun’s main melody early on sounds guitar-like and harkens back to the great quartet Fourplay. It’s especially charming when Shaun chats with his son Harlem just past midway and Shaun continues to riff on piano. After that interlude, the group again picks full speed. The tune is gorgeous right through the meandering ending.
Riddle Me This: Shaun starts off with some soft single notes before breaking out the main melody which is so elegant. It takes a minute or so for Matt and Mike to come by which time Shaun has set a very tender tone. ‘Riddle’ had me thinking of Seal’s Kiss From a Rose for its feel and texture. It builds from the simple, slow start builds to great dramatic force midway. Matt and Mike really have a nice synergy with Shaun here as the tune rolls through to a very powerful finish just before Shaun closes solo.
Naima: Naima is one of two covers on the album, this one from John Coltrane’s 1959 album Giant Steps. Shaun’s version is much faster paced than the original and of course Shaun is playing a strong piano is playing the lead here. Mike and Shaun really play blistering grooves together. For me, it’s not until about midway through that the original melody is recognizable and Shaun and Mike playing exciting polyrhythms to the end.
Afro Blue: Mike starts this one with the classic beat and Shaun and Matt come in with deep tones that stay pretty true to the Mongo Santamaria original. Shaun’s keys almost sound like vibes throughout much of the tune, playing well off of Matt’s bass. The bridge has Shaun playing the melody in a dreamlike fashion right through.
What Lies Beneath: No surprise that Matt wrote this one with Shaun as it opens with that pumping bass line. Somehow, the first part of it reminds me of Ghost-Note (sans horns) segueing into a Snarky Puppy sound once Shaun joins. Once Shaun starts dabbling after the opening, it reminds me of Joe Zawinul of Weather Report. Zawinul was known as the first to give the synth a ‘voice’ – something Shaun does here to great effect. Shaun often uses the talkbox with Snarky Puppy but here I think it’s just the synth. The middle really dances and and the reverb effects Shaun uses are hot.
The Light In Dark Places: Again it’s terrific how Shaun duals on piano and synth keys. It really has that early fusion feel like Return to Forever, so playful and vibrant. You can get into some deep thoughts and feelings here. The slowdown on the break features Matt with another fine solo. The build that Shaun puts out after that it feels like a rocket takeoff. All three are blasting away. And then once there’s a slowdown, Shaun teases a little from his classic ending of Snarky’s “Thing of Gold” which he’s know for. Finally, the fade out end feels you’ve zipped into a tunnel.
Shaun Martin’s Three-O really makes an impression. I can’t wait to hear more from these guys. The tunes are so well composed and played making the album a real pleasure trip. It’s a winner and you can purchase by clicking the link at the right.
Also, I was lucky to catch the group live right before lockdown and you can peep the show with a few of the album cuts, below.
Keys – Shaun Martin: keys, programming, vocals
Bass – Matthew Ramsey
Drums – Michael “Blaque Dynamite” Mitchell
Percussion – Frank Moka
Cries – Harlem Martin
Executive Producer: Shaun Martin
All songs written, arranged and produced by Shaun Martin except
- Naima – John Coltrane
- Afro Blue – Mongo Santamaria
- What Lies Beneath – Shaun Martin & Matthew Ramsey
YOU CAN WATCH A FULL SHAUN MARTIN SET HERE!