Claire Martin - Witchcraft - Jazzwise

Since starting to work together about a decade ago, Claire Martin and (now Sir) Richard Rodney Bennett have become an extremely popular pairing on the concert circuit.  Their only previous recorded outing together, 2005's When Lights Are Low, featured tunes from a cross section of Great American Songbook masters (Gershwin, Berlin etc) and more.  This new collection homes in a single composer, Cy Coleman (with words provided by a variety of lyricists, including the great Carolyn Leigh, and the barely lesser talent of Dorothy Fields), whose work has been a significant part of the duo's repertoire for a few years now.  It's hard to imagine a better, more naturally swinging interpreter of this sophisticated material than Martin, and RRB provides perfect understated accompaniment, as well as vocals on a handful of tracks.  There's nothing flash about the arrangements or performances, just a transcendent submission to and faith in the songs as written. And what songs they are: from best-known numbers ('The Best Is Yet To Come') to some lesser-known pieces (the irresistibly witty 'Everybody Today Is Turning On') and the killing closer, 'Would You Believe', every one is a small gem.


Jazzwise talks to Claire Martin about the album

You've already road-tested this material

Yes, you could say we've been a little back-to-front with it.  But it's really the musician's ideal to play the material in before you record it, so actually it's the right way around.  It's great going into the studio already knowing what works with the tunes.

What drew you to the music of Cy Coleman?

The first album we did together [When Lights Are Low] was a bit of a mishmash, so this time we wanted to do a songbook - it's great for all sorts of reasons, and clubs love it if you've got a theme.  We were already doing 'Witchcraft' and 'The Best Is Yet To Come' in our set and we felt that [Coleman's music] hadn't been done to death.  Maybe people will know three or four songs, but there'll be something fresh.

How do you decide who's going to sing what?

We wanted to do 'fair shares'. I go bowling in with the ones I want to do.  Richard finds the ones that suit him, and where age brings more credibility to the lyric.

You have said before that Richard is the boss.  How does that manifest itself?

He's a leader, let's put it that way!  He won't play anything that he doesn't want to.  I've come up with some good suggestions over the years that have just been panned.  He'll just say 'I'm too old' and that's that!  Me and Norma Winstone do really good impressions of him.

What makes for a great musical relationship?

Richard is a real laugh.  He's extremely well read, and he's got a good story to tell about every singer.  We're good friends so there's no pressure on stage.  He can rib me and I like that.  He might drift off into another key and I'll just cross my eyes.  It's fun.

Are you planning any more live performances together?

We're doing about 40 dates this year.  Our really big gig is with the Nash Ensemble at the Wigmore Hall on 23 March.  It's being put together as a sort of present for Richard's 75th birthday.  I'm doing the cabaret set with him.

01 March 2011