Claire Martin - Believin' it - Jazz History Online
You can only sing “Funny Valentine” so many times… So said a vocalist friend to me many years ago. The challenge for singers to find unique repertoire is not new, but with new jazz vocalists debuting every week, the repertoire challenge is as important as ever. The discs reviewed below show how established vocalists are solving this age-old problem.
Claire Martin has been one of England’s top vocalists for the past three decades, and her fan base extends around the world. For her 20th album release, “Believin’ It” (Linn 563) she has enlisted a young Scandinavian rhythm section and created a new book of songs, drawn from well-known jazz and pop composers. Martin starts the recital with a sassy rendition of Roc Hillman’s “Come Runnin’”, squeezing out every emotion embedded in the lyrics. Martin Sjöstedt follows with a funky piano solo that shows his deep roots in Oscar Peterson, and bassist Niklas Fernqvist offers a swinging melodic improvisation. With Daniel Fredriksson providing fuel from the drum kit, the trio swings mightily while offering a fine backdrop for Martin. I was never a big fan of Michael Franks, but Martin brings a warm glow to his song, “Rainy Night in Tokyo”. The album’s title track incorporates an Andy Bey solo, and Martin’s impeccable diction serves her well while singing Imogen Ryall’s complex vocalese lyrics (and what energy the rhythm section produces! They must be thrilling to hear in person!). The covers of “I’m Not in Love” (10cc) and “Broken Wings” (Mr. Mister) are revitalized in Sjöstedt’s sensitive arrangements and Martin’s passionate vocals, but I prefer hearing her singing jazz pieces like Pat Metheny’s “Timeline”, especially when she has provided her own lyrics. Her engagement with the material seems stronger, and the trio responds with a powerful interpretation of the arrangement. I’m happy to see Joe Locke’s lovely tribute to Bobby Hutcherson, “A Little More Each Day” included here—it’s the type of quality jazz ballad that needs to be heard far and wide. Martin’s soaring rendition of the final chorus (with Fredriksson’s brilliant cymbal rolls in support) is one of the album’s many highlights. Another one is the understated version of the John Surman/Karin Krog “Cherry Tree Song”, featuring a perfectly interpreted vocal and outstanding arco and pizzicato work by Fernqvist. From this point, the playlist reflects standard repertoire, but Martin’s versions of “The Great City”, “P.S. I Love You” (by Johnny Mercer, not the Beatles) and “Love Dance” are all vibrant and expertly played. Martin closes this fine album with “I Told You So” composed by Scottish octogenarian saxophonist Duncan Lamont. Years ago, Martin was honored as an Officer of the Order of the British Empire. In the name of diplomacy, it’s high time that she and her remarkable trio make a tour of the US. This album should generate plenty of interest in a series of American concert performances.