Claire Martin & Richard Rodney Bennett - Live Review - Cabaret Scenes

Without so much as an arpeggio, Claire Martin and Richard Rodney Bennett launch into a short version of "Puttin' on the Ritz." This is not, Bennett explains, a show about Irving Berlin's life or career, but rather about the songs-"He tried to write one a day; there are over 1,500."

The evening features less familiar material like "Get Thee Behind Me, Satan," which Martin delivers sighing and sultry, and "Love, You Didn't Do Right By Me": "To send me a Joe who had winter and snow in his heart/Wasn't smart" sung with moving sincerity. There are also signature Fred Astaire numbers, such as "Change Partners"-performed with great charm by Bennett and his terpsichorean piano-and "Cheek to Cheek," less successful at tap tempo;  and old favorites exemplified by Bennett's enchanting rendition of "What'll I Do?" and Martin's "Shaking the Blues Away"-a little scat, a little shaking of shoulders, and lots of style.

There are two birthdays in the room, 90- and 91-year-old ladies. When one spontaneously completes a lyric during "How Deep Is the Ocean," the artists gracefully turn the audience loose on the song. Almost everyone knows the words. "Big ending!," Martin encourages. Unfortunately, it's the only instance either of them engages the audience or, in fact, each other.

Duets (highlights) include several deftly arranged medleys, a zippy rendition of "When the Midnight Choo-Choo Leaves for Alabam'" and the lovely, rarely heard "Waiting at the End of the Road," although it was recorded by such singers as Ethel Waters, Louis Armstrong and Bing Crosby. Martin and Bennett's voices work well together. His low modulation provides a kind of cushion for her more varied and lustrous range. Both swing gently and with ease.

"I'm very lucky to be here," Martin tells us, "because, as you may have noticed, I'm a Brit and it's like bringing coals to Newcastle." She has her own highly lauded jazz interview show on the BBC. "I learned pop tunes off the radio and watching movie musicals which, because of where I lived, were about six years out of date," comments Bennett, whose career has included success in an extremely wide range of musical genres as composer, pianist, arranger and vocalist. The few brief elucidating historical notes are his.

Both performers have flair for phrasing. Arrangements are refined and interesting. Bennett's playing is more successful on meditative pieces than those which are rendered uptempo. All in all, an entertaining show shared with a couple of adroit musicians.

Cabaret Scenes
11 June 2011