Claire Martin and Richard Rodney Bennett - When Lights Are Low - Jazzwise

We'll leave the jazz police to snarl and bicker over the "is it jazz, is it cabaret?" issue, while the rest of us just revel in a highly enjoyable, richly performed release which confirms (like it ever needed confirming?) Martin's all round talents while also bringing Bennett's lesser known skills to the fore.
The wonder is that it's taken so long to record such an album - they've performed live together for a number of years and Bennett has been a patron of Martin's since he wrote sleeve notes for her first album. But where you might expect Bennett to have written Martin lush string accompaniments, this is the pair of them alone with a piano and sharing the vocals between them.
The choice of material is a mix of standards (but freshly re-arranged) and lesser known but highly appropriate songs. The standouts include Carl Sigman's My Mood Is You, with Martin's voice closely miked and relishing a come hithery quality that it's rarely exhibited before. Generally, Martin has a Stafford-esque, glacial cool about her; indeed she's been criticised for being over-controlling. But this is a more mature, more vulnerable Martin, brave enough to bare witness to raw emotions. Not that she's ever the victim - Martin turns I Gotta Right To Sing The Blues into a joyful manifesto by changing the lyric to "I've got a woman's right to sing the blues". But it's Bennett who (almost) steals the show vocally. Martin has covered Baby Plays Around before, but here it goes to Bennett and the dry catch in his voice gives it a heart-tugging twist. He's also touching but not sentimental on old compadre Joel Siegal's Going Back To Joe's. A joy from start to finish, with the schmaltz factor set to zero, both these artists let the songs do the work: they make something very hard seem effortless indeed. * * * *

01 September 2005