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Claire Martin & Richard Rodney Bennett: Say it Isn’t So

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One of the most delightful collaborations in vocal jazz, that of Britain’s preeminent female vocalist Claire Martin and chameleonic British composer-arranger-pianist-sometime-vocalist Richard Rodney Bennett, ended with Bennett’s death last December at age 76. A year and a half prior, Martin and Bennett had played to SRO crowds at the Algonquin’s now-dismantled Oak Room, saluting Irving Berlin with a show titled “A Couple of Swells.” Two months later, the pair laid down 14 Berlin tunes for what would turn out to be their third and final shared disc.

As always, Bennett’s lilting arrangements and refined accompaniment are perfectly tailored to Martin’s smoky warmth. As always, her subtle imagination is enchanting, particularly on a breezy “Love, You Didn’t Do Right By Me” and an inspired blending of “Get Thee Behind Me Satan” with “I Got Lost in His Arms.” As a balladeer Martin remains nonpareil, her bruised “Better Luck Next Time” and “What’ll I Do” flawlessly rendered. Bennett’s rumbling, gravel-pitted talk-sing still captivates as he travels alone across four tracks, mirroring Fred Astaire’s suavity on “Change Partners” and jauntily navigating “He Ain’t Got Rhythm.”

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