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Rebecca Martin: Here, the Same, But Different

Phil DiPietro By

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There is a great deal of myself exposed in these songs. I find this provokes what's underneath the surface in us all, which is what I want to achieve. That's when the healing can take place and is the reason that I'm drawn to do this sort of work.
Rebecca Martin's last recording, Middlehope, demonstrated conclusively that she is a unique interpreter of standards in intimate, beguiling, personal, enticing, sensual, captivating, alluring...absolutely enthralling... wonderful even... ways (see review ). One might assume, as does the first question in this interview, that her way with a chestnut probably got her signed to MAXJAZZ, a label with a growing roster of enchanting chanteuses of the jazz cannon. One would be wrong - assumptions won't do for Rebecca Martin. You see, whatever measure of skill and individuality she displays with her incendiary way with a torch song (a measure already in the five-star range), it is far surpassed by her own way with her own tunes. Now, we have People Behave Like Ballads , chockfull of sixteen originals. Heartrending, heartfelt, heartwarming and heart-wrenchingly real , her songs and her delivery of them, her "serving them up," as she likes to call it, triumph in realizing her ambitious goal to tell things the way she (and we) feel them, expressing sentiments rather than providing narratives. Similarly, their structure breaks new ground rooted in another of her ambitions: to have her words grow naturally from her melodies; that is, to have the actual lyric grow out of the sounds she makes when she originally composes, humming or scatting the tunes. Most obviously, you might hear this in the distinctive way Rebecca delivers strange, yet engaging (oh, she is soo engaging- swoon ) pronunciations of words in a lyric.

Listen, and you'll hear other levels of sophistication in the songs. The last line of a "verse" will become a "chorus," yet the "chorus" will really be a theme only to be supplanted later by another melodic fragment which might turn into a "refrain." Where do these ideas come from? First and foremost, they come from her, but one look at her band roster, including Bill McHenry on saxophone, Ben Monder and Steve Cardenas on guitars, Matt Penman on bass , Darren Beckett on drums and Pete Rende on keyboards, shows she's inexorably tied to jazz. All her bandmates have recordings of their own or have appeared on others that share a common theme-the quest to find new forms at the crossroads of jazz, pop, rock and folk. So it is with Rebecca Martin, and it appears with People Behave Like Ballads , her evolution has been expedited. It's a reemergence, of a sort, for her, after the dissolution of the fantastic "Once Blue," her band with then-boyfriend, now Verve recording artist, Jesse Harris, in 1997. Evidence of the jazzy evolutionary chain would be the personnel in that band - Jim Black, Kurt Rosenwinkel, Anthony Wilson, Ben Street and Kenny Wolleson were all members. The independently released and under-heard Thoroughfare , also featuring her husband, bassist (to Pat Metheny and Brad Mehldau, no less) Larry Grenadier, and the aforementioned Middlehope provide documents of her logarithmic, but traceable progression. But People Behave Like Ballads is a breakthrough record, taking her complete game up a notch at the same time that the availability/publicity machine's been put into motion. New open ears are sure to find her a delight while the old ones will find her here, the same, but different.

All About Jazz: So is this new CD, the one for MAXJAZZ, standards, originals or a mix of both?

Rebecca Martin: All originals- 16 songs. Two of them were co-written. The first with Steve Cardenas , who is one of the guitarists on this record. We've been making music together for many years. The original version is on his first record She-bang (Fresh Sound). The song's title is "Para Ti," meaning, "For You." When he and I were touring back in '96, he was working on it in the van, and it inspired my lyric and new song title "Here The Same But Different". At the rehearsal for our record date, I thought it would be a good time to bring it out for the band to play- I'm very glad I did. It's one of my favorite tracks on the record. "It Won't be Long" is a collaboration with Richard Julian a singer-songwriter and an old friend of mine.

AAJ: I was thinking since you signed with MAXJAZZ, this might be another standards record along the lines of your last one, Middlehope .

RM: I'll do another one for sure some day. We're fleshing out songs for that project currently while I continue to write. MAXJAZZ had heard Middlehope which was brought to them through my friend, Ron Simblist and Jana La Sorte. Richard came to New York to hear the band because, to his credit, he makes a point of getting to know the artist and musicians personally before making any sort of decision. At that time, Middlehope was a project that I had done several years prior, so the current music that I'd been working on was a body of original tunes, which is what he heard in NY that day. He was really open to it...and I was able to make People Behave Like Ballads the way I'd envisioned.

AAJ: I'm sure the reception for this will be amazing.


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