Claire Martin - Live at CBSO Centre - The Jazz Breakfast

Birmingham Jazz's CBSO Centre programme has featured singers before - with Ketil Bjornstad, with the Heritage Orchestra, with Django Bates's stomRMChaser band, for example - but this was the first time (I think... I am sure I will be corrected if I am wrong) that a singer had been the leader and featured throughout the gig. And Claire Martin was a particularly wise choice to break this particular duck.

Not only is she a supremely talented singer, she plays a role in her band that is very similar to an instrumentalist.

When you choose the Gareth Williams Power Trio as your band, you sure as hell know you are not booking a bunch of accompanists happy to hide their talents under a bushel and stay out of the way. Which is not to suggest that pianist Williams, electric bassist Laurence Cottle and drummer Ian Thomas are not exceptionally sensitive musicians, and not impeccable in supporting roles - just that they are just so much more than that.

The band hit hard from the start in a programme which featured quite a bit of their most recent disc, A Modern Art. It's a strong mix of songs from the great American songwriters (both ancient like Rodgers and Hart, and modern like Fagen and Becker), plus lesser known contemporary writers (like Pat Coleman and Colin Lazzerini), and some from the pop world, too, like kd lang and Annie Lennox.

Martin also rightly referenced Carmen McCrae and Shirley Horn (I still laugh every time I remember the song Claire wrote for her album dedicated to the singer renowned for her larghissimo tempi - it's called Slowly But Shirley) because she is very much a jazz singer in their mould.

If one song sounded slightly out of kilter it was Lennox's Cold - just a bit too rockily dramatic for this context - and if one stood out in its musical complexity and thoroughly contemporary feel it was Lowercase, words by Mark Winkler and Lori Barth to a tune by Joshua Redman. The latter has a really lovely outro vamp.

Great solos from all four musicians, and a feeling of the thrill and pleasure of making spontaneous jazz music-making that is not always clear from the faces and manner of other bands. A life-affirming evening of sophisticated modern art.

15 November 2010