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Claire Martin & Richard Rodney Bennett: Witchcraft

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When Britain’s foremost jazz singer meets the island’s most imaginative composer, the outcome is always stellar. When their latest pairing is constructed entirely around selections from the Cy Coleman songbook, the results are that much more spectacular. Bennett is more prominent throughout, providing elegantly insightful piano accompaniment on all 14 tracks, taking vocal lead on four and duetting with Martin on four more. Martin’s solo vocals are, befitting her interpretive dexterity, wider ranging, extending from the tender heartache of “I’m Gonna Laugh You Right Out of My Life” and “With Every Breath I Take” to the sardonic self-berating of “Nobody Does It Like Me” and the romantically insouciant “When in Rome.”

Best, however, are the duets. When her smokiness wraps itself around his gruff growl, the results evoke the vivacious sophistication of Julie Wilson and her longtime playmate William Roy (who, back in 2000, also paid lively tribute to Coleman). Martin and Bennett take a gleeful stroll through “Ev’rybody Today Is Turning On,” Coleman’s slyly cross-generational salute to recreational substances. But their harmonic virtuosity is even better explored across “The Best Is Yet to Come,” “The Rules of the Road” and the title track, their dazzling thrust and parry ingeniously choreographed.

Originally Published