"It's a small word, jazz," Clare Teal says in a Yorkshire accent that vividly brings to mind Victoria Wood (which is apt, for she shares a similar sense of humor),"a small word that covers a huge range of music."
She's right, and in mid-2007, jazz seems suddenly to be everywhere, enjoying a mainstream revival in all its many hues and variations. Norah Jones, of course, has taken at least the essence of jazz and spread it far and wide, likewise Jamie Cullum, Amy Winehouse and Corinne Bailey Rae. And then there is Clare herself, perhaps the most faithful exponent of them all.
"Me? Oh yes, I very much come from a jazz tradition," she agrees, "but my new album is actually a distinctive move away from it and into something much wider. This is my second major label album, and I wanted it to be clear that I had something distinctive to offer, perhaps even something new."
And, in Paradisi Carousel, Clare has done just that. A rich and often sublime album of succulent tunes and a voice lined with velvet, Paradisi Carousel sees Clare, for strictly soundbite purposes, elevated into a Karen Carpenter for the 21st century, a British Diana Krall. Her loyal army of fans always knew she had the best voice in the country; now everyone will.
"I spent an entire year working on this, which, for me, is very unusual," she says. "In the typical jazz tradition, I normally take no more than six weeks, so it would have been awful if I didn't have something to show for all those additional months, and all that extra effort, don't you think?" Rest assured, her efforts have paid off beautifully. This is a peach of a record.
Let us now, for the sake of biography, state some facts.
Clare Teal hails from a tiny village near Skipton in Yorkshire, and was born 34 years ago to a mother and father with a box full of 78s, and an attic in which to play them. She came to singing early, ridiculously so, and by three could hold a note and make it flutter, although she did so in the privacy of her bedroom. By her teens, she was proving curiously impervious to the many joys of 1980s pop music - unmoved by the pleadings of Nik Kershaw, resistant to the charms of Simon Le Bon - instead turning her attentions to musical styles long since consigned to history.