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Well, it's about time we met

The English singer Claire Martin makes her L.A. debut with an imaginative program.

January 02, 2007|Don Heckman | Special to The Times

It was hard to believe, from the very first notes she sang, that jazz singer Claire Martin was making her debut Los Angeles performance Sunday night. And making it before a modest-sized audience in the intimate environs of Beverly Hills' Rising Jazz Stars Foundation.

How could it be, one wondered, that this extraordinary artist -- with a string of highly regarded albums in her professional dossier and a solid reputation as England's most impressive female jazz artist -- had never been heard before in the Southland?

Whatever the reason, the English-born Martin is a singer who should be -- must be -- heard by anyone with the slightest interest in jazz vocalizing. At a time when the woods are thick with talented distaff jazz artists, she is a standout, instantly recognizable as a unique and impressive creative performer.

Working with the sterling trio led by pianist Tamir Hendelman, Martin could do no wrong.

Start with her warm, velvety sound, pliable enough to move from atmospheric ballads to fast-paced, instrument-like up-tempos.

Add her musical precision, driven by flawless pitch and crisp, articulate phrasing.

Toss in an imaginative choice of programming embracing material reaching from jazz standards to offbeat pop items and originals.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Wednesday January 03, 2007 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 0 inches; 22 words Type of Material: Correction
Claire Martin: A review of singer Claire Martin in Tuesday's Calendar misidentified Mark Winkler's song "Another Night" as "Come Back to Me."

And all that still doesn't quite separate her from the top level of female singers, a few of whom bring similar credentials to their music.

What raised the bar for Martin's performance was her capacity to combine these qualities with a captivating onstage persona and a storytelling mastery that transformed her songs into something more than words and music -- into musical miniatures running the gamut from intimate love balladry to high-spirited jazz inventiveness to sardonic commentary on the state of the world.

She did it via songs such as Joni Mitchell's "Sex Kills" and Betty Carter's "Tight," the whimsical "My Dissipation" (written for her by a friend) and the double entendres of Gino Vannelli's "Gettin' High," and the late-night musings of songs such as Mark Winkler's "Come Back to Me" and a stunning re-phrasing of Mercer and Van Heusen's "I Thought About You."

All of which underscores the question of why Martin is still a relatively unknown quantity in this country. And one can only hope that the reply will be, "Not for long," because she is the real deal, a talent with the skill, imagination, maturity and presence to provide new and compelling definitions for the fascinating art of jazz singing.

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