Claire Martin & Joe Stilgoe Live At St James Theatre

With Peter Andre butchering Frank Sinatra on the one hand ("Reality TV swing", as Ray Gelato aptly put it) and Annie Lennox massacring Billie Holiday on the other, it was heart-warming to hear two artists performing standards and originals with such care, insight and sensitivity.

After they'd opened with an arresting snippet of Charlie Parker's "Billie's Bounce", a massively swinging take on Peggy Lee's "I Love Being Here with You" saw Martin slipping in some deft lyrical changes ("I'd love to kiss George Clooney's nose"), while the first of several towering scats lit up "Comes Love" like a firecracker.

Martin's singing on "I Love Paris" (from Porter's 1953 Broadway musical Can-Can and most famously recorded on Ella Fitzgerald Sings the Cole Porter Songbook) was sublime, imbuing the line "I love Paris in the summer when it sizzles" with an intense depth of feeling. A brace of solo spots for Stilgoe saw him continue the Parisian theme, dusting down the onomatopoeic delights of Charles Trenet's "Boum!", learnt from The Best of Charles Trenet ("probably his best album", Stilgoe quipped), and which also featured some nifty mouth trumpet, followed by a rather lovely, and lesser-known, song from Can-Can, "Who Said Gay Paree?".

The first set finished with two songs from albums that Martin recorded with her great friend and mentor, the late Sir Richard Rodney Bennett: a dazzlingly effective "Witchcraft", the title track of their 2011 album of Cy Coleman songs, plus a heart-melting "Blue Skies" excerpted from the magnificent third and final chapter of the duo's musical partnership, the Irving Berlin songbook Say It Isn't So.

Framed by sparkling versions of songs by the brilliant Gershwins, "They All Laughed" and "Love Is Here To Stay", the duo really settled into their music-making in the second set. As well as classic standards such as "Old Devil Moon" and "Lover Come Back To Me", the set also featured a trio of Stilgoe originals. The first, "Lost For Words", penned for Martin and recorded by the duo on her exceptional 2014 albumTime & Place, was beautifully done here, with Martin subtly charting its narrative ebb and flow. Stilgoe's suitably elegiac reading of "Seaside", the title track of Liane Carroll's most recent album, was counterpointed with the feel-good blast of energy provided by "Totally" from his own New Songs for Old Souls. Previously covered by US jazz vocalist Jackie Allen, Donald Fagen's "Do Wrong Shoes" was a wickedly acerbic digression.

The Arts Desk
22 February 2016