Claire Martin - A Modern Art - BBC online

She's performed with John Martyn and Noel Gallagher and often features Tom Waits and Nick Drake songs in her repertoire, so it's no surprise that Brit jazz singer Claire Martin has chosen to make A Modern Art a scrapbook of contemporary songs.

The exception is Rodgers and Hart's Everything I've Got Belongs to You. It was written in the 1940s, but it's strikingly forthright and modern, fitting neatly with tunes by the likes of Donald Fagan and Coleman and Lazzerini.

While all the pieces on A Modern Art are strong on lyrics, the focus is on funk, blues, driving bass and swinging horns. Surprisingly, the horn section is just Mark Nightingale on trombone and Nigel Hitchcock on sax, but together they manage to sound like a miniature big band.

Bassist Laurence Cottle's complex arrangements blur the boundaries between the singer and the band. He writes Claire's voice into the horn section in So Twentieth Century and there's plenty of space for solos. Hitchcock rocks on Everything I've Got Belongs to You, Nightingale's trombone chatters through Martin and Cottle's Edge Ways (a funny piece about a terminal bore), and Gareth Williams' fluid piano sets cascading notes against shifting time signatures in Promises.

In a moving tribute to Esbjörn Svensson, Claire's version of his ballad Love is Real shuns frippery. There are no tricky time signatures or clever arrangements here. Williams gets straight to the simple, bluesy heart of the piece while Claire's voice starts silky and breathy and expands to gospel proportions.

With A Modern Art, Claire Martin proves that vocalists can be musicians too, even if they don't sit behind a piano.

11 September 2009