2013 BBC Jazz Award Nomination - Best Vocalist 'Claire Martin'
2013 BBC Jazz Award Nomination - Best Album 'Too Much in Love to Care'
Named 'One of the Best Albums of 2012' by Jazz History Online.
Claire Martin has been a driving force behind the UK jazz scene for the past 25 years and has won many accolades, including a British Jazz Award no less than six times. Her massive contribution to UK jazz was noted in 2011 when she was the proud recipient of an O.B.E. in the Queen's Birthday Honours List for her services to music.
2011 saw Claire return to the States where she performed sell-out shows at The Lincoln Center with pianist Bill Charlap and The Algonquin Hotel in New York City with Sir Richard Rodney Bennett. New York City was also the location for her latest recording 'Too Much in Love to Care' which she recorded with guest star Kenny Barron at Avatar Studios, one of the greatest recording facilities in the world.
They were joined by bassist Peter Washington, drummer Kenny Washington and guest Steve Wilson on saxophone and flute.
‘Too Much in Love to Care' is a collection of classic romantic songs and beautiful ballads from The Great American Songbook with many of the tracks recorded in just one take, remarkable as it was the first time Claire and Kenny had played together.
Too Much in Love to Care; Introduced by Will Friedwald
When I first listen to a new album, I'm generally trying to prod myself for some kind of reaction: what am I going to say about this music, whether as an annotator or a reviewer? When I attended one of the sessions for Too Much in Love to Care (Claire Martin sings with Kenny Barron) in the summer of 2011, and then, six months or so later, when the sound files for the album arrived (via the miracle of the world wide interweb) in my inbox, my first thought wasn't, ‘well, what am I going to say about this one,' but rather, I immediately started thinking of young, contemporary jazz singers whom I wanted to play it for. I started making a list of all the vocalists who could learn from Claire Martin, and it's practically all of them, even more than a few who are older and perhaps more experienced than Wimbledon's favourite jazz singer. It would be hard to find any vocalist of the current generation who's been as prolific as Ms Martin, in terms of both quality and quantity: math was never my strong suit (I can't even count to 21 with my clothes off ), but as far as I can ascertain, this latest project is her 15th album in 20 years (the first was The Waiting Game in 1992). You'd have to go back to the 60s or earlier to find singers that busy, when being a recording artist was something more like an actual profession. Singers like Nat King Cole or Nancy Williams would often release upwards of three albums a year back in the day, but no other artist singing today has amassed a body of work that's anywhere near as complete or impressive as Ms Martin's. Not bad for a girl of, at this writing, not yet 45 summers.
Yet even with 14 previous albums, she has hardly said everything that she has to say, and there are many surprises in store. I was astounded to learn that this is Ms Martin's first general album of exclusively the so-called (and properly so) ‘Great American Songbook' - in which nearly all the songs originated from between the 1920s and 1950s. The latest tune here is Johnny Mandel's ‘A Time for Love' (circa 1966) which is also one of only two in which one of the songwriters is still alive. (The other is Carroll Coates, co-composer of the title song, ‘Too Much in Love to Care,' a beautiful quasi-Latin ballad unearthed by Ms Martin, virtually untouched since Carmen McRae recorded it in 1954.)
Because this is the Great American Songbook, Ms Martin and her producers Philip Hobbs and Calum Malcolm had the rather brilliant, obvious idea (brilliantly obvious and obviously brilliant) of recording the whole works in New York. The downside, for them, was that this gave me the excuse to attend, and therefore I could snoop around and get in everyone's way, but the upside was that this enabled them to recruit an all-star quartet, led by pianist, arranger, and legendary maestro Kenny Barron, with saxophonist Steve Wilson, bassist Peter Washington and drummer Kenny Washington. (Mr Washington and Mr Washington, as almost everyone likes to point out, are not related to either Dinah Washington, Walter ‘Wolfman' Washington or the George Washington Bridge, but they do constitute two-thirds of the Bill Charlap Trio, perhaps the fi nest piano-centric threesome of our age.)
What immediately strikes both veterans and newcomers to Ms Martin's ever-expanding oeuvre (and here I'll bet she didn't even know that she had an ‘oeuvre') is that she has more of the sound of what a jazz singer should sound like than virtually anybody else of her approximate generation. She has a unique vocal timbre that screams ‘ jazz' at the top of its lungs even though Ms Martin herself barely even raises her voice. She's often cited Ella Fitzgerald as her first influence, but I continually hear some personally forged hybrid of the young Anita O'Day and the even younger Carmen McRae in her voice. The sound of her voice itself can only be described as pure jazz. The tracks that will most likely first catch your attention here are those pure duos between Ms Martin and Mr Barron, where, if this isn't too redundant, the other instruments are not present. Ms Martin has extensively worked in a voice-piano duo format before, usually with the awesome British pianist Sir Richard Rodney Bennett. (Ms Martin clearly exhibits a penchant for keyboard royalty, between a knight of the British Empire and an American baron.) See if it doesn't strike you that although they are piano masters of comparable, incredibly high levels of skill, their approaches to the voice-piano duet format are very different. When Sir Richard plays for Ms Martin, you are always conscious of how bass and drums are absent, he makes you think about the silences, and those silences even more than any additional notes or any instruments ever could. Conversely, when Sir Barron plays behind Ms Martin, you completely forget that the bass and drums aren't there, it isn't until you listen extra closely that you realise that the Washingtons are outside copping a smoke somewhere.
(Knowing Kenny ‘The Jazz Maniac' Washington as well as I do, I would wager that he was trolling eBay in search of rare Kenny Barron LPs.) On ‘Embraceable You' and ‘Time After Time' in particular, Mr Barron is a one-man rhythm section unto himself - when Peter Washington's bass appears in a puff of smoke (playing pretty much just in solo, not behind the voice); contrastingly, Sir Richard is such an imperious presence that he hardly even requires a rhythm section, real or virtual. And then, when Kenny and Peter play behind Ms Martin and Mr Barron on ‘A Time for Love,' you get a sense of how much a bass and drums can add to a duo by playing so little (no wonder Bill Charlap won't make a move without them); Mr Wilson shows that, on flute especially, he can make a major impact with very little actual noise or volume. ‘Lazy Afternoon,' is anything but, more than daisies are running riot here.
On ‘Weaver of Dreams,' everything is too down to earth, concrete, and swinging, for all the activity to be confined to the realm of dreams. (Funny thing about dreams, last night I dreamed that I was in the movie Inception.) ‘You Turned the Tables on Me' is an antique from the early days of the swing era that Ms Martin, Mr Barron, Mr Wilson (on alto) and company haul out of the mothballs and bring back to life, without so much as a speck of dust on it. ‘Crazy He Calls Me,' a lyric so good that it's fully the product of two ace wordsmiths (Bob Russell and Carl Sigman), is mostly another duet, and, in truth, is rendered practically bereft of anything that could be considered craziness.
I Only Have Eyes for You' has the distinction of being an overdone (but hardly unwelcome) song in nearly every era of pop music, from 30s Hollywood to 50s doo-wop, yet the team makes it sound fresh and new: Mr Barron's piano solo has an especially horn-like quality here. From start to finish, this is an album that I can't wait to play for every young singer I know. I can only imagine the looks on their faces when they listen. You didn't hear it from me, but sometimes it's been my experience that singers can sometimes be catty and / or jealous of one another. But this time, I have no doubt that with one hearing of the magic that Claire Martin and Kenny Barron make together, that they'll all be too much in love to care.
© Will Friedwald, 2012 (Will Friedwald writes about music for The Wall Street Journal. He is also the author of eight books on music and popular culture, including the recent A Biographical Guide To The Great Jazz & Pop Singers (winner of the 2011 ASCAP Award))
A note by Claire Martin:
Throughout my 25 year career as a jazz singer I've sung many of the Great American Songbook standards in my live repertoire but, as of yet, I have never recorded a whole album dedicated to this genre.
This was a deliberate choice as my musical tastes are very varied and I was of the mindset that these songs had been covered by so many of the greats that even thinking I could remotely do them justice and put my own personal stamp on them seemed rather presumptuous to say the least! However, it's impossible to ignore an audience's reaction to songs they know, love and relate to (there's a faint audible sigh of relief whenever I start singing something familiar at gigs!) and so I have compiled this collection of love songs, all of them optimistic and uplifting, and taken what's been described to me by my dear friend Phil Hobbs as ‘the path of least resistance'! The added joy of making this record was the world-class musicians I had the great honour of recording with.
Kenny Barron, the epitome of cool, has long been one of my musical heroes. Effortlessly he brought such gravitas and style to the proceedings with his immense knowledge of this music and sheer pianistic brilliance. At least half of the songs on this recording are first takes; a couple we came up with on the day and recorded just piano and voice before the rest of the band arrived. My rhythm section featured the dream team of Peter and Kenny Washington, an awesome combination of two of the most dynamic, swinging musicians I have ever heard.
The soulful and unique Steve Wilson joined us as my special guest on sax and flute and lent his wonderful musicianship to what was a very memorable day. I would like to thank this incredible line up of the absolute best there is for making this experience a real musical treat that I will cherish always.
Many thanks to my agent James Wright. Love and thanks to all my great mates who continue to inspire me and make me laugh: Barb Jungr, Ian Shaw, Mari Wilson, Liane Carroll, Gill Manly, Laurence Cottle, Gareth Williams, Kristian Leth, Matt Skelton, Jim Mullen, Gabby Swallow, Dollie Henry-Jenkins, Esther Bennett, Mandy Rutherford, Jane Kelly, Katy McPhee, John Wilson, Joe Stilgoe, Mark and Caroline McGann, Brian Wright, Caroline Oakes, Sam Joseph, Charlotte Keech, Liz Rylance, Jane and Nigel Francis, Liz Warrington, Tammy Griffiths and Gill Graham.
To my New York friends for their continued friendship and support: Barbara McGurn, Bill Charlap, Scott Merrell, Gerry Geddes, Barbara Carroll and Lisa Schiff.
To Calum Malcolm and Phil Hobbs for their expertise, guidance and big ears (!) and everyone at Linn Records who are dedicated to making music that matters.
Special thanks to Mum and Dad for loving jazz in the first place and to my amazing husband Phillip and daughter Amelia for the daily dose of sunshine and love.
This recording is dedicated with love to my dearest friend and mentor Richard Rodney Bennett.
In loving memory of John Haxby.
Claire Martin, 2012