Claire Martin - The Early Years Anthology - The Jazz Rag

19 February 2009
The Jazz Rag
Les Tomkins

Well, I've been well and truly Claire Martinned - and it's a good thing to be, I can tell you. With these four from the ‘nineties, which I hadn't heard before, plus the five that I already had, I thought I might have the Linn CM output so far. But I discover that there are a couple more I have to catch up with.

With Claire having been showing British female jazz singers how to do it during two decades now, the nineties were her ‘early years', and this package, ranging from her Waiting Game debut (1992), through Devil May Care (1993), Old Boyfriends (1994), to Make This City Ours (1997), provides some intriguing insights.

The object lessons Claire has given from the start are to do with choice. Firstly in terms of accompanying musicians - in '92 and '93, the redoubtable Jonathan Gee was her pianist, in alliance with guitar all-rounder Jim Mullen. Arnie Somogyi on bass and Clark Tracey on drums made it an ace quartet. Superb front-line soloists added included Nigel Hitchcock and Iain Ballamy. Steve Melling's piano talents were utilised on her third outing, with Mark Nightingale contributing torrid trombone. '97 found her in New York backed by an Anglo-American group that introduced another prime piano partner, Gareth Williams, with solo brilliance from trumpetman Gerard Presencer and US altoist Antonio Hart. Equally important has been her chosen material. Nobly avoiding overdone oldies, she has combined good-quality recent songs, some her own, with earlier rarities.

The one detracting factor recurring amid the first three CDs is not being able to comprehend some of the lyrics. In the case of the novel Better Than Anything, the blame can be laid on the too-fast tempo it is taken at. There's also some near-gabbling on an obscure Bacharach song, Out Of My Continental Mind. Elsewhere no such excuse applies - sadly, several of them being her originals. I'm reminded of various other singers' albums, where I'm appreciative of all the words being printed in the notes. Then, in the final New York session, comes the answer: Claire is much more up front in the balance, and throughout a wide range of tempos, every words can be heard loud and clear, making the messages fully understandable.

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