Claire Martin Quartet, Shoreham, Sussex

At Ropetackle Centre, Sunday, 23 June 2019, with Martin Sjostedt, Michael Janisch and Daniel Fredriksson

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Vegan tambourines, rain sticks and a fairground ride through several decades of popular music all characterised this last night of Claire Martin’s recent tour of her newest album release Believin’ It (Linn Records).

A globally flavoured line-up featuring a Swedish jazz pianist and drummer and a Chicagoan double-bass player fresh from Kurt Elling’s band accompanied Ms Martin in a relatively stripped-down performance, while she retained a few surprises up her elegant sleeves.

A roar of anticipation greeted her entrance, to the first deep-swinging strains of The Great City, followed by Wheelers And Dealers, in which materialism and alienation were explored with aplomb and a nod to Shirley Horn and Dave Frishberg. The extended vignette of the lovers in their hotel room in Rainy Night In Tokyo, by Michael Franks, with the rain stick for percussion and the piano emulating soft rain interludes, managed to cast its spell on the audience as evinced by the hushed, bewitched applause that followed.

This spell lingered on in the Andy Bey album title track, with rewritten, sharp-scatting solo and lyrics. In People Will Say We’re In Love (from Oklahoma!), a familiar standard was given fresh resonance by the emotionally intelligent piano stylings of Martin Sjostedt, Sweden’s answer to Laurence Hobgood.

Cherry Tree Song, by Norwegian singer Karen Krog with John Surman, became an epic sung folk-poem, with Martin confiding stories to her listeners. “The Arts Council funding for the tour freed me as an artist”, she said, “and I could concentrate on just the music”.

The reinterpretations of classic rock staples Broken Wings and Not In Love musically took the ear on an entirely different journey, and although Sjostedt’s masterly piano solos brought down the house, on these numbers the live vocal could sound subdued at times. 

The really standout songs came tumbling from the second set:  the simple blues-swing ending of the affair on Sarah Vaughan’s Detour Ahead; the male-female power play of You Dream Flat Tires by Joni Mitchell, where Michael Janisch’s attack literally improved on Larry Klein’s original bass figure; Pat Metheny’s Timeline, featuring rippling rhythmical piano waves, augmented by expansive, spacey drumming from Daniel Fredriksson. Lena Horne’s Come Runnin’ saw Martin in convincing, groove-laced salute to a major influence of hers. Her moving Here’s To Life, duetted with Sjostedt, was at times raw in its intimacy,  while the lovers of the first set were reconnected in the lines of Johnny Mercer’s P.S. I Love You.

Alternately working a lightning vocalese dexterity and the honeyed tones of a sea-siren, yet with an engaging, girl-next-door familiarity, she owned the stage, simultaneously showing generosity and synchronicity with her fellow musicians, all seemingly without pausing for breath, and still with a promise of revelations to come.

Claire Martin Quartet, Ropetackle Centre, Shoreham, Sussex, Sunday, 23 June 2019: Martin (v); Martin Sjostedt (p); Michael Janisch (b); Daniel Fredriksson (d, pc).