Whitman review Claire Martin and Jim Mullen

7 December 2018, Claire Martin and Jim Mullen play the music of Wes Montgomery

Claire Martin OBE – voice
Jim Mullen – guitar
Mike Gorman – organ
Tristan Maillot – drums

Two artists of the stature of Claire Martin and Jim Mullen appearing in the intimate setting of a jazz club is a dream configuration—so in that sense, at least, everyone in the audience knew what to expect. But it’s jazz, performed at a level of artistry that still left everyone astonished.

One needn’t be a guitar aficionado to marvel at Jim Mullen’s octave/thumb technique–a direct Wes Montgomery legacy, through which Jim has honed his own unique musical voice. However long one stares and concentrates, the speed, precision and clarity of his runs seem improbable. But the beauty of his improvisations soon displaces the wonder over what he does with his hands in favour of how he conceives such wondrous music-making—and at high speed.

Much as it is difficult to sing a Christmas standard without the accretions of years of tedious familiarity and sentimentality, it is difficult to praise Claire Martin without repeating a now-familiar string of superlatives. But such is her magnetism and command that she was able to dispel the usual distancing effect of stardom, drawing the audience into what felt like a charmed, inner circle. You’ll travel far and wide before experiencing stagecraft this subtle, assured and warmly welcoming.

And then there was her singing—splendidly varied across the range of the songs that Wes Montgomery made familiar, and for which Jim Mullen was the ideal partner. Just when you think you have the measure of a Claire Martin set, she delivers a note, sometimes at the most unlikely moment, that false foots even the most dedicated listener. She never overloads a song, but works each one carefully, to deliver a dose of meaning and feeling, straight to the heart. The real measure of a Claire Martin set is that each song is worked exquisitely.

Mike Gorman’s organ playing was integral to all three sets—solo runs that shot sparks, but also deft accompaniment, finely attuned to both Claire and Jim. And his duet passages with Jim Mullen were a special treat—and another fine display of Jim’s careful listening and finely attuned accompaniment. Tristan Mallot performed sterling service as substitute drummer, earning Claire’s praise as well as no shortage of the audience’s appreciation.

As this was the Wakefield Jazz Club’s Christmas gig, the third set was dedicated to seasonal numbers; and one of the peaks of the evening was Claire and Jim performing a guitar and voice duet of ‘Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas.’ This was a revelation: shorn of tinsel, a beautiful ballad emerged, made all the more compelling because both Claire and Jim brought a finely wrought dedication to every nuance of the song.  And a rollicking, rousing blues to finish—better than reindeer any day.

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