Claire Martin and Richard Rodney Bennett - When Lights Are Low - Audiophile Audition
Claire Martin has definitely gotten a lot of well-deserved attention over the last couple of years; her 2004 release "Too Darn Hot" was an instant classic, and has yet to find its way out of my regular listening rotation. "Secret Love", the much-anticipated follow up, struck me at the time as a bit uneven; repeated listens over the last year have changed my opinion significantly, and while it's not quite on the same level artistically as "Too Darn Hot", it's nonetheless essential listening. Sir Richard Rodney Bennett made really superb cameo appearances on piano on each of those discs; on this excellent new duo album, Sir Richard not only deftly supplies his phenomenal pianisms, but shares the vocal spotlight as well. The results are simply stunning - this collection of showtunes, standards and songs (from sources as diverse as Elvis Costello) is definitely one of the year's best.
The two take alternate singing turns between most of the tunes, and share vocals on three: When Lights Are Low, The Very Thought Of You, and Any Place I Hang My Hat Is Home. In an album filled with highlights, those three tunes stand out, especially on The Very Thought Of You, which is actually a medley that also feature the well-traveled standard I Thought About You. Claire takes the lead for the first chorus; Sir Richard follows with I Thought About You in the second chorus, then the duo expertly weave both songs smashingly in the finale. Claire Martin's robust alto is perfectly suited to the song selection here, and Sir Richard's smoky-sweet delivery (with just a hint of a quaver) works sheer magic throughout.
Sound quality of this multichannel SACD disc is reference quality. Sir Richard's piano has that "in-the-room" realism that really transports you from the listening room to the recording venue. [An] essential disc - very, very highly recommended! * * * * *