Claire Martin - Too Darn Hot! - The Observer

Among British jazz singers, Claire Martin has occupied a self-defined middle ground - without surrendering to traditional delivery of the Great American Songbook, but also without investigating the more idiomatically and technically unorthodox territories traversed by Norma Winstone. Martin is, however, a superbly-equipped orthodox jazz singer with a refreshing absence or mannerisms, a knack for sidestepping sentimentality and a jazz instrumentalist's inventiveness and swing. This is her most ambitious disc, even though the Songbook style dominates it, the jazz arrangements really fizz. Pianist Gareth Williams delivers storming solos throughout, and though you may not care for Rodney Bennett's diaphanously romantic strings on When I Fall In Love, Martin's depp purr on it must be one of the song's best-ever interpretations. Conventional material maybe, but skilfully and intelligently reworked.

To be original without sounding outlandish or just plain dotty is a difficult trick to bring off, especially for singers but Claire Martin has always managed it with grace and poise. Part of the secret lies in the trust she places in the musicians, and in the mutual inspiration that flows from it. Her occasional pas de deux with saxophonist Nigel Hitchcock provide some of the best moments here. The 13 songs range from Leonard Bernstein to Joni Mitchell and include a couple if specially written pieces by Joel Siegel and Geoff Keezer. Two songs have beautifully unsentimental string arrangements by Sir Richard Rodney Bennett.

30 June 2002