Season windup at the Algonquin Hotel finds U.K. jazz thrush Claire Martin in her Oak Room debut skillfully traversing a heady jazz repertoire. Pert and alluring, she can swing and reveal the romantic core of a love song with a breezy intimacy.
Martin takes liberties with melodic structure, but retains the harmonic perspective and maintains an insightful awareness of the lyric. Her improvisational technique appears unforced, and she appears relaxed when she swings. She enjoys her own groove, singing with a cool and appealing palatable timbre and develops a warm rapport with her audience.
Perhaps the most sweeping musical statement at the center of her hour is “The Music That Makes Me Dance,” the Jule Styne-Bob Merrill ballad from “Funny Girl.” It’s featured on Martin’s new Linn Records CD, “He Never Mentioned Love,” revealing an insightful ballad delivery that is warm and knowing.
Singer offers nods to the late Shirley Horn and to Marian Montgomery. Her version of Rupert Holmes’ “Partners in Crime” seemed much more settled as nestled within Rodgers and Hart’s time warp, “I Didn’t Know What Time It Was,” which was featured as a tribute to Carmen McRae.
Like the singers who inspired Martin, she knows how to tell a story, deftly illustrated with Mark Winkler’s torcher, “Another Night.” She appeared, however, to be most comfortable with the old standards, from Irving Berlin’s “Cheek to Cheek” and the Johnny Burke-Jimmy Van Heusen tune “It Could Happen to You” to Jack Lawrence’s “All or Nothing at All.” The tunes were clearly crowd pleasers and infinitely more arresting than some of the unidentified material.
The singer’s most fanciful turn found her with the “list” song, “Better Than Everything,” brought to standard status by Bob Dorough. Here Martin added a well structured scat and captured the song’s fun and fancy.
A tropic excursion into Brazilian repertoire appeared to be ill chosen, with a rather tasteless lyric. She attributed the translation from the Portuguese to an au pair, but something got lost along the way. Despite the disarming ease of her performance, one would have preferred a Jobim standard.
Martin is given tight support from pianist Gareth Williams who anticipates her little jazz flights. An electric bass assist had a little too much boom for the intimate venue.