Wednesday Jun 26

Claire Martin: Boyfriends and more

Meet Claire Martin, the classiest, hippest, most exhilarating British import since the Morgan Plus 4.  Martin's swinging, idiomatically classic vocalizing earned her a Best Rising Star commendation in last year's British Jazz Awards.  In terms of public recognition, the award may be appropriate.  In terms of artistry, Martin's star is not ascendant but solidly positioned in the upper reaches of the jazz firmament.

Martin is such a fully developed artist that trying to point out relative strengths is an dangerous exercise.  She has a finely honed contralto voice, impeccable diction, and a relaxed sense of time. Those are precisely what a singer needs to sell a song with perfect balance of melody, lyric, and rhythm.

The band is perfectly balanced with Martin, too. The basic combination is voice, trombone (Mark Nightingale), and guitar (Jim Mullen) with rhythm section.  Note the intuitive interaction between Nightingale and Martin, and his punchy multitrack support on the deliciously nasty, adult-themed "Partners in Crime."

That tune is just one example of Martin's unerring ear for repertoire. The list of songs on Old Boyfriends has a wonderfully fresh look--carefully chosen standards, newer classics, less familiar recent compositions (like "Partners"), and even an original on which Martin collaborated.

Of all the selections on the disc, the one that most clearly demonstrates Martin's skill with a song is Artie Shaw's "Moon Ray." Martin undoubtedly chose it because of its snaky minor melody and hip changes and in spite of the fact that the lyrics fall apart at the bridge. On the original Shaw recording, vocalist Helen Forrest (no slouch with a song) sounded almost embarrassed at the "joy-boy-toy" rhyme. Martin lays it down as if it were perfect poetry and almost makes it so.

Note that "I've Got News For You" is not the comedic blues made famous in Woody Herman and Ray Charles versions.  It's a moving, moody ballad.  The news turns out to be the same, though, and it's clear that Martin enjoys delivering it.

By the way, Linn Records is part of the Linn company that turns out high-end audio gear.  The sound quality on this disc may well be the best I've encountered on any CD.  Certainly I've never heard better.

Now for a question: When will we get to hear Claire Martin's previous two Linn recordings?