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December 2005

Claire Martin and Richard Rodney Bennett
When Lights Are Low
Linn Records

A perfectly mixed rusty nail requires three parts scotch to one part Drambuie. It's a potent recipe that accurately describes the first full-length pairing of old pals Claire Martin and Sir Richard Rodney Bennett.

Drambuie is a honey-smooth concoction that masks a powerful kick, and that's Martin. For my money she's not only the finest female British jazz singer of her generation but possibly of all time. Martin handles vocal duty on six of the disc's 16 tracks. The mellow, well-aged scotch is the multitalented Bennett. Though best known for his film-composition work, the dexterous 74-year-old is equally skilled as an arranger and pianist, as demonstrated throughout this masterful olio of familiar standards and lesser-known treasures. It is, though, Bennett the underappreciated singer who here impresses most.

Flying solo on seven tracks, Bennett lends his distinctively bipolar style (simultaneously suggesting the gut-bucket splendor of Dr. John and the black-tie elegance of Fred Astaire) to tunes that delightfully extend from Noel Coward's soigne "World Weary" to Elvis Costello's forlorn "Baby Plays Around." The cherry in this heady cocktail is the trio of tracks on which Martin and Bennett join forces, particularly a sublime interweaving of "The Very Thought of You" and "I Thought About You." Drink up.

Originally published in December 2005
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