Claire Martin - Too Much in Love to Care - Audio Video Club of Atlanta

The good news here is that the Great American Songbook is alive and well. It has been transplanted on the soil of the United Kingdom, where it is watered daily and tended with loving care by Claire Martin. The songstress grew up in Wimbledon on London's south side, where she had learned all of Judy Garland's songs by age 12 and had begun pouring through the Ellla Fitzgerald Songbooks. From that time, her fate was sealed. Now, as Britain's top jazz vocalist, she could teach Americans a lot about their own priceless (and somewhat neglected) tradition. Though it's possible to cite precedents from Anita O'Day to Shirley Horn, with side trips through Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughn, and Carmen McRae (influences that she freely admits), in the last analysis Claire's way of molding and styling a song is distinctly her own, as it must be with all great jazz artists. You pay homage to your antecedents, of course, but then you you go on to do your own thing as naturally and un-selfconsciously as you possibly can. That's essential. Your art has to be a vibrant, living thing, continually exploring new realms instead of just being the stuff of Preservation Hall.

To that end, Claire has all the tools: a voice ranging from smokiness to bright, breathless ecstacy with plenty of room to move around in between and an inelligent approach to the lyrics that allows her to penetrate to the very heart of the matter. Her vocal style is pure jazz, so self assured it doesn't have to wail or shout to assert its credentials. Sometimes she pins the specific gravity of a song on a phrase or even a single word that really smacks you in the kisser, though she delivers it with a vevet glove. As she does in the Bob Russell/Carl Sigman lyric Crazy he calls Me, made famous by Billie Holiday: "Like the wind that shakes the bough / He moves me with a smile / The difficult I'll do right now / The impossible will take a little while." Or the eternally popular How Long Has This Been Going on? by George and Ira Gershwin: "Oh, I feel that I could melt / Into heaven I'm hurled / I know how Columbus felt / Finding another world."

Claire's supporting cast for this album, the first she has made in the U.S. in fifteen years, are all aces: pianist Kenny Baron joins forces with the (unrelated) Washingtons, bassist Peter and drummer Kenny, who together comprise two-thirds of the famed Bill Charlap Trio. It is beautiful to hear the smooth and  interesting ways these artists interact jazzwise with one another and with the vocalist. Add guest artist Steve Wilson on alto sax in the Louis Alter/Sidney Mitchell 40's hit swinger You Turned the Tables on Me, and you have a mix that is all the more effective for its less-is-more emphasis.

That puts the focus on Claire Martin. This is her album, and her vocal chemistry is felt in the way she engages with every one of the 13 songs. You don't just experience it in a timeless Gershwin lyric like Embraceable You or the Jule Styne/Sammy Cahn Time after Time, but even in a song like I Only Have Eyes for You that you might have suspected would lose some of its freshness in all the years since Harry Warren and Al Dubin penned it in 1934. (With Claire singing it, brother, not a chance!) Mostly, when I hear Claire Martin singing, I'm reminded of yet another song lyric, this time by Paul Medeira and Jimmy Dorsey: "In this world of overrated pleasures / and underrated treasures / I'm glad there is you."

Audio Video Club of Atlanta
30 May 2012