Secret Love - The Guardian

When you look at a tracklisting that includes the titles But Beautiful and Cheek To Cheek, you might think that Claire Martin's 10th album in 13 years is just another of those sultry standards jobs by a nice singer with a nice voice. But though this set has just as many credentials for dinner-jazz airplay as material by any of her more high-profile smoothie contemporaries, Martin has always had an instinct for fine timing and an appetite for improvisation that makes her a musician's musician.

She also displays great taste, both in the songs she picks and in her choices of instrumentation and players. On Secret Love, the sidemen and the instrumental timbres are immense enhancements to the singer's forthright yet lustrous-toned handling of the material. Jim Mullen's guitar and Laurence Cottle's Jaco Pastorius-like electric bass are two of the most prominent, giving this album a special sound of its own - at times they almost steal the show. The title track, transforming the torchy confessionalism of Secret Love into a tricksy glide through the chord changes, turns out to provide some of the few uneasy moments. On the other hand, But Beautiful - with its humming basslines, Jim Mullen's fragile but bluesy guitar, a distant Hammond organ and Martin's exquisitely timed phrasing - is a defining account of the song. The Meaning of the Blues is unexpectedly delivered as a Latin swinger with some telling harmonia-playing from Julian Jackson. And Mullen and pianist Gareth Williams add vivacious variations to Michael Francks's soul-bluesy Jive, which showcases Martin's faultless control of rhythm.

Ian Shaw joins her for one of the few forays into heart-on-sleeve territory, the Costello/Bacharach song God Give Me Strength, but Martin's deceptive simplicity strips it of schmaltz. Uptempo swingers like Get Happy and Cheek To Cheek celebrate her uncanny surefootedness as well as the skills of saxophonist Nigel Hitchcock and pianist Williams. Very classy indeed - and warmer, deeper and more expressive than some of her earlier recordings.

The Guardian
22 October 2004