Claire Martin and Richard Rodney Bennett - When Lights Are Low - Atlanta Audio Society

This Linn SACD was a revelation for me. I wouldn't have believed the British could do vocals in a blues/jazz idiom as authentic as this. With their habitually quick, clipped speech patterns the Brits wouldn't seem to be suited for this kind of intimate jazz, where you need to hold and caress the underlying moods in the songs, the sensual joy and pain that slowly percolate up through the melodies or flow as smooth as cream, even when the harmony drips with salt tears.But hearing is believing. When Lights are Low made a believer of me. Songstress Claire Martin is joined by pianist and fellow vocalist Richard Rodney Bennett. They make an unbeatable team in one of the year's best jazz albums. Martin's warm, sensuously beautiful voice, breathy and highly expressive in all the right places, finds the perfect complement in the lightness, perfect pitch and wonderful flexibility of her partner Bennett. (Who, by the way, is the same Richard Rodney Bennett well known to audiophiles for his film scores. As the present album reveals, he is at least as great a jazz artist as he is classical.) The program is wonderful. Every one of the 16 tracks deserves air time on the jazz FM stations. Not a dud in the lot. Most have the advantage of having not been done to death by other artists. Solid musicianship, an honest, intuitive approach to each song lyric, and the ability to swing characterize Martin's vocal art in songs like My One and Only (George Gershwin) I've Got a Right to sing the Blues (Harold Arlen, Ted Koehler), and Baby, Don't You Quit Now (Jimmy Rowles, Johnny Mercer). Her intelligent approach to The Very Thought of You (Ray Noble) brings a breath of fresh air to one of the few over-familiar items in the program, one that is usually over-sentimentalized. And she does a great resurrection job on Irving Berlin's too seldom heard Fools Fall in Love. Bennett, his voice undiminished by the years, does a terrific job with the elegant lyrics of Noël Coward's paean to the simple life, World Weary. Ditto his No Love, No Nothing (till my baby comes home), an old favorite from the WWII years. His own song, Not Exactly Paris, is another charmer: "It wasn't exactly Paris, / It wasn't exactly spring, / But there was Beaujolais and flowers / And the passion those kisses used to bring." A unexpected discovery here is Bennett's rendition of Baby Plays Around (Carl O'Riordan, Elvis Costello): "She walks the shiny streets / while I walk this worn-out floor, / She's all I have that's worth living for." And the duets are something special! When Lights Are Low (Benny Carter, Spencer Williams), the title song, is wonderful ("Our lips meet, sweet and tender, / Heaven's all aglow, / Why Shouldn't we surrender / When lights are low?") But their sensational take on the old Johnny Mercer-Harold Arlen standard Any Place I Hang My Hat is Home really blows the roof off as their voices segue perfectly. Don't miss this one!

Atlanta Audio Society
01 January 2006