Claire Martin - Time & Place - Deep Roots

Girls' Night Out, In Style

The Great American Songbook is only gaining more luster as time goes by and contemporary successors to the likes of Rodgers and Hart, Gershwin, Porter, Ellington and Razaf, Mercer, et al. prove elusive. Recently, three gifted vocalists have all taken runs at the Songbook, but at the same time each one is suggesting new songwriter candidates be considered as worthy of being mentioned in the same breath with the aforementioned standard bearers of Songbook excellence...Claire Martin offers a classically flavored, altogether captivating blend of approaches in her ambitious pairing with the Montpellier Cello Quartet.


On Time and Place, with the backing of the Montpellier Cello Quartet (as well as piano, bass and drums), Claire Martin, the First Lady of U.K. Jazz, often sounds like the reincarnation of latter-day Rosemary Clooney, who brought the full weight of her life's experiences-especially in romance-to bear on her repertoire (which includes a moving, emotional reading of Ira Gershwin-Kurt Weill's heavily metaphoric personal mission statement "My Ship" as its kickoff tune), adding new layers of meaning to songs more than a half-century old. Lennon-McCartney's "She's Leaving Home," now 47 years of age, is given a scintillating new coat of paint in a moody arrangement by pianist Joe Stilgoe, from which emerges a deliberate vocal reading that heightens the lyrics' evocation of a daughter's tragic alienation from her selfish, clueless parents, as the piano adds a bluesy underpinning to Ms. Martin's wounded vocal. A clever reshaping occurs in David Bowie's "The Man Who Sold the World." Here, the rock elements of the original are discarded in favor of dark, "Eleanor Rigby"-like strings and a pronounced Latin underpinning, producing tension between the lively samba and the heralding strings, all supporting Ms. Martin's clarion vocal (Gareth Williams has a terrific romping piano solo near the end as well), guaranteed to inspire a fresh perspective on this intriguing entry from the Thin White Duke. On an album with so many moods, one of the most revealing occurs on Joni Mitchell's "Two Grey Rooms." In this arrangement by composer Mark Anthony Turnage (commissioned by Ms. Martin), the mood hews closely to the despair in Ms. Mitchell's original, but with the Cello Quartet's swirl of deep moans in the background Ms. Martin's tone of restrained disgust at the folly of her obsession with a lost lover is the start of a healing process, in sharp contrast to the original's entrenched misery. On a lighter note, Richard Rodney Bennett, a long-time collaborator with Ms. Martin, contributes "Early to Bed," a lighthearted swinger with a freewheeling vocal and brisk arrangement fueled by sparkling piano runs (by Joe Stilgoe) and upbeat acoustic bass fills courtesy Jeremy Brown. Ms. Martin chooses another Bennett tune, the reflective piano-based ballad "Goodbye for Now" (a co-write with Charles Hart), as her sign-off here, singing warmly over the sensitive 88s, "To those of you I leave behind/I hope and pray that you may find/some pleasure and some peace of mind/in all that follows here..." It's actually a last will and testament, the lyrics expressing the singer's wish for the distribution of her personal effects, both physical and metaphysical, but in this context it's akin to a review of the emotional landscape she's traversed on Time & Place.

Ms. Martin's many admirers will not be surprised by the impact she makes with her cool approach, and newcomers to her art will find a reason to believe.

Deep Roots
24 September 2014