Martín Zarzar brings the world home
By Julie Cortez, El Hispanic News
Portland, OR — Long before he was a percussionist for Pink Martini, Portland’s globe-trotting musical ambassadors, Martín Zarzar was quite the world citizen. Born in his mother’s native Peru but also strongly connected to his father’s Palistinian culture, as a small child he learned chess from a Vietnam veteran in Paris and remembers falling instantly in love with the bass at age 4 in Dartmouth, England, during a Stanley Clark solo performance.
That love has taken him even farther afield. “I went as far as Malaysia once playing the bass,” Zarzar says.
He tackles bass along with guitar, piano, percussion, and Middle Eastern oud on his first solo album, “Two Dollars to Ride the Train,” which he also co-produced — writing and recording the majority of the songs between December of last year and the beginning of March.
Some of the instruments were ones Zarzar had never played before, and this was his first time recording lead vocals.
“The studio is a good place to experiment,” he says, “especially when no one is watching.”
Not that Zarzar didn’t get a little help from his many musical friends. He initially took on most of the instruments to speed and ease the process of producing his first album, but added a number of guest musicians when he realized, “I can start indulging in all of the beautiful sounds I want to hear and work with all the wonderful people I want to work with.”
Grammy-nominated cellist Dave Eggar co-produced the album, and performed most of the string instruments. He also helped Zarzar settle on a name for the album by asking to have all the song names read aloud. When Zarzar got to the third, “Two Dollars to Ride the Train” — an ode to public transportation and the MAX in particular — Eggars said that was it, and there was no more discussion.
“Two dollars and ten cents doesn’t rhyme well, so I had to round down,” Zarzar explains.
Other contributors include Gavin Bondy (brass), Derek Rieth (percussion), and Maureen Love (harp) of Pink Martini; Niel DePonte (xylophone) and JáTik Clark (tuba) of the Oregon Symphony; Dan Gaynor (piano), Nat Hulskamp (guitar), David Evans (clarinet), and singers Lamiae Naki and Mario Díaz.
The orchestral-folk-pop album features vocals in French, Spanish, English, Portuguese, and Arabic. “That’s just the way I think,” Zarzar says. “I was raised in many places. … To me it’s just one language.”
The wide world greatly influenced his approach to the album, but it was a rare long stretch of time only playing gigs close to Portland that allowed Zarzar to focus on creating his first solo work.
“I’ve attempted to do many [solo albums] over the years,” he says. But Zarzar spends so much time touring “that every time I come back I’ve had a new perspective on what I want to do.”
He attempted to resurrect some of the songs he’d written on those past attempts, but only ended up using two he penned last year. Everything else was created from scratch, allowing Zarzar to tell a story with the collection.
“Even though [the album] sounds very diverse, there is a common thread in it,” he says. “It’s kind of like a day in my life.”
Zarzar hopes his story-oriented, uncluttered approach will inspire folks to buck the inclination to download singles and instead give his work a start-to-finish try.
“People don’t listen to full albums anymore,” he laments. “Everyone is so rushed and so busy making themselves unhappy. [‘Two Dollars to Ride the Train’] is a reaction to that unfocused and piecemeal approach to life.”
Anyone in the Portland area will be able to delve even deeper into “Two Dollars” at an album release concert on June 23 at 8 p.m. at the Alberta Rose Theater. Zarzar will be joined by many of the recording’s guest musicians, as well as Sam Howard (bass), Israel Annoh (drums), Tarik Banzi (oud), William Goforth (vocals), Free Beat Nation (directed by Derek Rieth), and the Pacific Youth Choir’s smaller chamber incarnation.
The group will perform every song on the album as well as a few others. The concert will also feature the premiere of a piece Zarzar recently wrote for the Pacific Youth Choir.
Zarzar says to expect a “louder, more rambunctious” approach to the songs in the live setting. He knows putting on such a large show is a lot of work and a financial risk, but having so many musician friends willing to make the leap with him eases the worry and the workload.
Plus, while the world has been a great source of inspiration, “Portland has been very generous to me,” he says, “and I wanted to give it a little gift.”
“Two Dollars to Ride the Train” is available now from iTunes, cdbaby.com, and local Portland record stores. For more information visit martinzarzar.com/. To buy tickets to the June 23 release concert ($15-$30), visit albertarosetheatre.com. Minors are welcome if accompanied by an adult.
Este artículo también está disponible en / This post is also available in: Spanish
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