Claire Martin has never made an album that was less than excellent and A Modern Art, released late in 2009, somehow manages to improve even upon the extraordinary qualities of those that went before. With an intriguing and exploratory repertoire, she offers witty, wry and thought-provoking songs that are simultaneously entertaining and filled with examples of her subtle skills. She is aided here by a fine backing band that includes Gareth Williams, Phil Robson, Laurence Cottle, James Maddren, Chris Dagley, Mark Nightingale and Nigel Hitchcock. All the compositions are treated with care and respect, the material being delivered with elegant yet deeply-rooted jazz sensibilities. An admirable set that should appeal to all who love superior jazz singing.
On Witchcraft, Claire teams up with classical composer Richard Rodney Bennett in a thoroughly enjoyable set of songs composed by Cy Coleman. Claire and Richard, unlikely musical companions on paper, have performed together for several years, delighting audiences in London and New York (and beyond) with artful explorations into many aspects of popular song. With this set, released in early 2011, they vividly demonstrate how skilled musicians from whatever field can work together with superb results when hearts and minds are in the right place. There is not a weak moment on this CD, whereon Claire and Richard sing some songs separately and others in duet and in all cases provide what must surely prove to be lasting interpretations.
Sandi Russell Incandescent (Freedom Song FSSR 1001) * Sweet Thunder (33 Jazz 165)
For several years, Sandi Russell has successfully toured her one-woman show, Render Me My Song, a history of African American women writers in words and music. On Incandescent Sandi is in excellent form. Mature and fluid in her vocal sound and interpretations, she is a commanding presence and with the backing of some fine musicians the result is an impressive experience. The repertoire is a good mix of popular and jazz songs, with one or two lesser known but attractive items. I had the privilege of writing the liner notes for Sandi's CD, Sweet Thunder, on which Sandi delivers outstanding interpretations of many fine songs. The following is a brief extract from my notes:
Sandi is exceptional because she is a mature, worldly woman with ample experience of music and of life. She knows what to sing, how to sing the songs she chooses, and who to have by her side as she does it.
Sandi’s repertoire is exemplary, blending the familiar with the forgotten, the overlooked with the overused (which she recreates in vibrant fashion), and adding in an occasional example of her own lyric-writing skills.
Mature and confident, Sandi’s vocal sound allows her to bring to her material musical and textual undercurrents that make her interpretations more than merely entertaining songs – although they are certainly that. These performances, rich in musical knowledge and lyrical subtexts, are a joy to hear and will linger for a long, long time when the ephemera that abounds today has been forgotten.