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Claire Martin - A Modern Art - Audio Video Club of Atlanta

British jazz vocalist Claire Martin comes out with her first new CD in two years, and this time it's personal. Not that she didn't get to the heart of things, in the inimitable way a first rate jazz artist can do, in her last Linn release, He Never Mentioned Love. That album was a tribute to Shirley Horne and was filled with songs associated with that great singer and sung in a style that was reminiscent of her. And while Claire continues to revere Shirley among her role models ­ along with "Ella, Sarah, Betty, and Carmen" (jazz aficionados, you know who we're talking about ­ she takes what she needs from each and melds it into her own unique style.) That too, is what a true artist does.

But there's something personal in another way about her latest, A Modern Art, and it goes beyond the two lyrics she co authored with Laurence Cottle, whose wisely knowing string bass is heard on this album, "Edge Ways" and the title song, "A Modern Art." With that song, we get down to a deeper level of involvement. Says Claire, "It's my own take on celebrity culture and the mass dumbing down of musical standards in popular music." (In that respect, I understand the Rap and Hip Hop viruses have spread to the other side of the pond. You Britons have my deepest sympathies.) She admits she's "on a mission" for jazz, which she feels is "as vibrant and relevant as ever and can indeed gain a mass appeal ­ I'm sure of it!"

She makes her best case with her songs, backed by a solidly sympathetic trio of Cottle, Gareth Williams on piano, and two different drummers who aren't identified by tracks: James Maddren, and Chris Dagley. Add percussionist Sola Akingbola and Mark Nightingale on trombone and the inimitable Nigel Hitchcock on alto sax, and you have great backup for a gal who's out to define herself as a jazz singer in the 21st century.

The goal is clear: how "to reach a higher ground / find an inspired sound / when in the song we're down / with this modern art" (title song). Intense preoccupation with self is not an answer: "So good for you and me / Too bad for some: / Freedom's not for everyone. / That's just so twentieth century" (So 20thCentury). A deeper level of communication is needed: "While I'm drowning in the chatter, / I don't hear a thing you say; / If my opinion doesn't matter, / you'd ignore me anyway."

The better way, as jazz has always known, is direct, personal and loving: "How everything we say / and everything we do / has been preordained, / brings you, love, to be here // Nothing else is pure, / nothing else is right; / You will know for sure, / once you've seen the light" (Love is Real). It provides certainty in a chaotic world: "So many things, we know, are never what they seem, / and life is never guaranteed; / So on the chance that you can overcome / what sinks us to out knees (As We Live and Breathe)." And love, when found, can be a form of breathless astonishment: "I can't deny the stranger in my skin, / or is it just Nirvana setting in?" (Nirvana)

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Audio Video Club of Atlanta
06 November 2009