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Claire Martin: A Modern Art

Bruce Lindsay By

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Is jazz still a modern art? It's a hundred years old, after all, and some performers and fans seem to ignore everything written after 1940. But as far as the work of Claire Martin is concerned the question has only one answer. Apart from being one of the finest singers on the current scene, Martin is constantly searching for new writers and new ways to interpret them, ensuring that her own approach to music stays resolutely in the present. A Modern Art, her thrteenth album, is an eclectic recording that showcases her talents and those of a superb collection of backing musicians—it's possibly the best album of her career to date, which is saying something.

The musicians are some of the best around and all play with skill and empathy. Mark Nightingale's trombone adds a funky edge to the album, guitarist Phil Robson once again displays his ability as an accompanist—his duet with Martin on David Cantor's "Nirvana" is exquisite—and long-term collaborator, arranger and producer Laurence Cottle, who also plays bass, is recognizably crucial to the overall feel of these songs.

Martin's singing is exceptional—distinctive, expressive and stylish. She can be smoky and sensual—on Michael Franks' "Sunday Morning Here With You," for example—or playful and funny. On "Edge Ways," written by Martin and Cottle, the singer is sensual and playful—satirizing an egotistical and overly-talkative old friend or rival over a suitably upbeat and cheery backing. Donald Fagen and Walter Becker's "Things I Miss the Most" is given a Latin groove which, added to Martin's light-hearted vocal, gives the song a warmer, more positive feel than the original. Martin is not averse to making a small lyrical adjustment here—she goes to bed with a copy of a celebrity gossip magazine, rather than the more dubious literature favored by the protagonist in the Steely Dan version.

The album highlight is undoubtedly "Love is Real." This is a gorgeous ballad, co-written by pianist Esbjorn Svensson, bassist Dan Berglund and drummer Magnus Öström (collectively known as e.s.t.), with lyrics by bassist Charlie Haden's son, Josh. Svensson died in a diving accident in 2008 and Martin sings this as a tribute to the pianist. Her vocal performance is heartbreaking, adding even more emotional intensity to an already powerful song. This is a song that stays in the memory. Given the quality of the album as a whole this is high praise indeed—A Modern Art is a gem.

Track Listing: Everything I've Got Belongs to You; So Twentieth Century; Love is Real; Lowercase; A Modern Art; Edge Ways; Love of Another; Totally; Everybody Today is Turning On; Sunday Morning Here With You; Promises; Things I Miss the Most; As We Live and Breathe; Nirvana.

Personnel: Claire Martin: vocals; Gareth Williams: piano; Laurence Cottle: bass; Nigel Hitchcock: alto sax; Mark Nightingale: trombone; Phil Robson: guitar; James Maddren: drums; Chris Dagley: drums; Sola Akingbola: percussion.

Title: A Modern Art | Year Released: 2009 | Record Label: Linn Records

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