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Claire Martin - The Early Years Anthology / Perfect Alibi - Jazzwise

24 September 2008
Peter Quinn
4 Stars

As far as its jazz catalogue is concerned, Claire Martin is the artist who has defined the Linn sound. Released at budget price and collecting together the singer's first four studio albums for the label - "The Waiting Game" (1992), "Devil May Care" (1993), "Old Boyfriends" (1994) and "Make This City Ours" (1997) - "The Early Years Anthology" raises an interesting question. Has any UK jazz singer ever arrived so fully formed? Chosen by The Times as one of its "Records of the Year", there's nothing abecedarian about the debut album. Including You Hit the Spot and Some Cats, it announces the arrival of a bona fide jazz singer. Kicking off with a superior reading of Bob Dorough's title track, the follow-up "Devil May Care" brings Martin's lyrical and compositional talents to the fore. Released in the year that the singer received the "Rising Star" award at the British Jazz Awards, "Old Boyfriends" boasts a typically eclectic song list ranging from the Tom Waits title track to the Burt Bacharach rarity Out Of My Continental Mind. Featuring new pianist Gareth Williams and recorded in NYC with a top-flight band, "Make This City Ours" exudes an even greater confidence and zip.

Heard back to back, what's most striking is the singer's ability perform any number of emotional states, from the lugubrious reflection of The People That You Never Get To Love and ardent pleading of Save Your Love For Me, to the quiet exultation of Gentleman Friend and carpe diem sentiments of Make This City Ours Tonight. There's nothing remotely ersatz or candy coated about Martin. Every line is sung with a dramatic credibility. The anthology shows her to be that rarest of things: a singer who actually lives up to the extravagant claims made on their behalf.

Now, newly remastered, to rediscover her bestselling album "Perfect Alibi" (2000) is to marvel once again at its freshness. The singer brings subtlety and insight to a diverse collection that runs the gamut from the large-cast sumptuousness of How Can I Be Sure? and People Make The World Go Round to the stripped down duets of Shadowville and More Than I  Can Bear, featuring multi-instrumentalist and producer Paul Stacey.

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