American singer and pianist Shirley Horn was one of Claire Martin’s greatest influences. In He Never Mentioned Love, Claire’s first album since Shirley died at the end of 2005, she pays homage with a set of songs from Shirley’s repertoire.
To demonstrate what’s so great about The Heartache Queen, Claire sings her praises through her own piece - ‘'Slowly But Shirley'’. The 'silent spaces' she admired in Shirley’s performances have been assimilated into Claire’s singing style, particularly in her version of ‘'The Sun Died’', helped along by Gerard Presencer’s aching trumpet solo. In the quietest moments here and in the title track, every smile and every frown is audible in Claire’s luscious voice.
Though this selection of songs is mainly slow – in tribute to Horn, who was renowned for performing at drop-dead tempos – Claire’s wonderful sense of dynamics and story-telling still shine through. She’s threatening and needy in ’'If You Go’', passionate in ‘'Forget Me'’ and pragmatic in ‘'Trav’llin’ Light''.
Once again, Claire draws together an enviable collection of top UK jazz musicians, which means exciting solos and fresh arrangements. A mixture of trio, bass-voice duo and voice-guitar duo keeps things intriguing, and this is certainly no tribute band. The producer is bandleader Laurence Cottle, who plays a stunning solo on ‘'You’re Nearer'’, his electric bass speaking through the gruffest low notes and singing through the high ones. Gerard Presencer’s broken altissimo notes have a Kenny Wheeler sound to them, and Nigel Hitchcock’s sax storms through ‘'Slowly But Shirley'’. The Gareth Williams–Cottle-Clark Tracey trio get things swinging whenever they can, especially in ‘'All Night Long'’ where everyone lets rip against a jagged time signature. Claire’s long-time cohort on the guitar, Jim Mullen, also features. He gets his teeth into the feisty ‘'LA Breakdown'’, as Claire’s fractured phrases and belting finale turn this hard-driving bluesy waltz into the ultimate drama.
He Never Mentioned Love may be a chance for Claire Martin to remember Shirley Horn, but the sheer individuality that she brings to these songs shows that this is more than a tribute album. Shirley’s passed the flame to Claire, who’s using it to light fireworks. Go girl!