Martin James Bartlett – Love and Death

martinjamesHow? How can some young punk make me care about Bach’s “Jesu Joy of Man’s Desiring”? If you can’t recognize the name of the tune, don’t worry, you’ve heard the motherfucker about sixty-five thousand times. Believe me. It plays at all the Christmas festivities, Easter festivals, and weddings. No, not that one. As her royal whiteness walks the two-step, that’s Mendelssohn’s “Wedding March” aka “Here Comes the Blackness” kicking it out of that off-kilter organ. “Joy” is the hit that plays after the kisses, halfhearted cheers, thrown rice, blown bubbles, dreams of a quick death, and when you’re asked if you want the chicken or the fish. Yep, that piece of shit. I barely hear it anymore. I merely acknowledge its presence as a thing like some gambolling addict that hears the plucky chime of a slot machine as it announces another chance to pull its arm. This song is like the ring of an alarm clock. It’s a jingle that’s been playing ever since the mid 1700s. It’s so tired and grey it farts soot, coughs organs, and shits primordial ooze. It’s the second track on this album. Martin plays it in a way where I actually care. My robot heart beats an extra step as Martin’s calm, warmth, and gentle style reveal an inner depth and quality. You want to know what makes a good piano player? This exact fucking quality.

Martin was a finalist at the BBC Young Musician of the Year Contest when he was 15. Two years later, he won that motherfucker. Most kids fresh out the gate like to throw down something Mach speed and daring. They’ll call their album something “Fire”, “Things You Can’t Do Anymore”, or, more directly, “Me!” But not Martin. He calmly walks in like a veteran to play a selection of slower songs concerning the themes of Love and Death. That’s right. Fucking death. When hearing Martin play, you don’t think about his age. You hear unbelievable execution. You hear the inner workings of a piece contemplated and studied by the mind of a musical scholar. It’s soft, daunting, laden with feeling, yet light. Martin has all the elements to become one of the best. With time, I could see him standing alongside -he who can do no wrong- Igor Levit. Even if he doesn’t, this album stands on its own as a work of art. At 22, this is Martin’s debut album. And the punk is already a virtuoso with a distinct style. That’s not good for someone his age, that’s just plain fucking good.



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