Claire Martin with the Montpellier Cello Quartet – Time & Place – Linn

Claire Martin with the Montpellier Cello Quartet – Time & Place – Linn multichannel SACD AKD 423, 48:11 [9/9/14] (Distr. by Naxos) *****:

(Claire Martin – vocals; the Montpellier Cello Quartet: Dan James, Sarah Davison, Joe Giddey, Siriol Hugh-Jones – cellos; Joe Stilgoe – piano & vocals; Gareth Williams – piano; Jeremy Brown – double bass; Laurence Cottle – electric bass; Ben Reynolds – drums)

Claire Martin is without a doubt the “First Lady of  English Jazz,” and her numerous studio releases over a twenty-plus year career on the Linn Records label have represented one of the most well-executed surveys of traditional jazz standards and Tin Pan Alley hits in recent years. Never one to pidgeon-hole herself from a repertory standpoint, this new album, Time & Place, covers perhaps her most eclectic song selection ever, combining songs from sources as diverse as the Beatles, Joni Mitchell and David Bowie. There’s also a generous helping of the standards, along with  great songs of a newer vintage, all offered with Claire’s smoky-sweet voice – very singular in the world of jazz singers, no one else quite approaches her signature alto.

To make this album even more remarkable, most of the songs contain arrangements for the Montpellier Cello Quartet, and they give such infinitely familiar songs as Bowie’s “The Man Who Sold The World” and Monk’s “Round Midnight” an incredibly appropriate and entertaining new twist. Claire takes a song like Lennon and McCartney’s “She’s Leaving Home” and, after giving it her wholly unique vocal treatment in combination with the perfect piano arrangement and playing from Joe Stilgoe (her new cabaret partner), totally makes it her own. And, quite poignantly, several of the songs here, including “My Ship” and “Early To Bed,” represent the final installment with Claire’s longtime performing partner, Sir Richard Rodney Bennett, who died in 2012. His arrangements here are little short of remarkable, and his death represents a great loss to the jazz community at large.

I think, in many ways, this might be Claire Martin’s best work ever, and it really doesn’t hurt that Linn’s fabulous handling of the multichannel sound here makes this disc an easy reference for good surround sound. Claire’s vocals are front and center – right where they ought to be, and you’re given more of a stage presence for the remainder of performers, with the various instruments spread around you in a very pleasing manner. The hallmark of a great Claire Martin album is always the excellent arrangements, and in combination with superb playing and Linn’s magnificent sound, Time & Place does not disappoint – this may be her very best album yet. Not to be missed – this album comes very highly recommended!

TrackList: 

My Ship
Catch Me If You Can
She’s Leaving Home
Early To Bed
The Man Who Sold The World
Round Midnight
Lost For Words
My Man’s Gone Now
Two Grey Rooms
Goodbye For Now

—Tom Gibbs

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