Linn Records AKD423
Format: Hybrid Multichannel SACD
Musical Performance: ****1/2
Sound Quality: ****
Overall Enjoyment: ****
In the past, I have written that I anticipate every new album from Claire Martin the same way that I used to anticipate the albums of the late Peggy Lee. Martin is just as much jazz royalty as was Lee. I never listen to Martin’s albums to determine whether they are good or not; excellent is a given. I listen to find out what new explorations are taking place, and what new directions are being taken.
On this new SACD, Martin gets back to pop crossover ballads and joins forces with the Montpellier Cello Quartet for an album that is nostalgic and mellow. Martin’s voice has darkened and matured in a wonderful way and is now extremely warm and smooth, with a silky upper range. It is a perfect vocal instrument, guided by Martin’s innate sense of phrasing and the meaning of the lyrics. Many have opined that the cello is the instrument that is closest to the human voice, and on the tracks that includes them, the Montpellier Cello Quartet supports that claim. On other tracks, Martin works with a more traditional trio combination of piano, bass, and drums.
The album begins with the best arrangement of Kurt Weill and Ira Gershwin’s “My Ship” I have heard. It is just Martin and the cellos, and that is just right. After a gently swinging version of “Catch Me If You Can,” pianist Joe Stilgoe steps forward with his arrangement of Lennon and McCartney’s “She’s Leaving Home.” It is quite remarkable in its simplicity, with just Martin, the piano, and male backing vocals. With all respect to the Beatles, I think Martin captures the pathos of this song even better than they did.
After a lighthearted and breezy “Early to Bed,” the cellos are back for an intense version of “Featherfall.” They stay in the mix for Stilgoe’s arrangement of David Bowie’s “The Man Who Sold the World,” which has passages reminiscent of “Eleanor Rigby.”
Piano joins the cellos in “Lost for Words,” then piano, drums, and cellos combine for a poignant and appropriately sorrowful version of George Gershwin and DuBose Heyward’s “My Man’s Gone Now” from Porgy and Bess. The album closes with “Goodbye for Now,” which follows a sensual voice and cellos arrangement of Joni Mitchell’s “Two Grey Rooms.”
As one would expect from Linn Records,Time & Place is immaculately recorded. Although the overall sound is lush, it is transparent enough to give it a chamber-music quality. There is just enough reverb for the multichannel mix to have a tiny bit more presence than the two-channel version, but that version is also excellent. The disc offers a quietly perfect audiophile experience.
It is good to have Martin back in crossover mode. Let’s hope the final song was deliberately chosen to say goodbye for now, with more to come.
. . . Rad Bennett