Review: Claire Martin / Montpellier 'Cello Quartet at the Royal Albert Hall Elgar Room (LJF)

Claire Martin and the Montpellier 'Cello Quartet
Photo credit: Brian O'Connor / Images of Jazz
Claire Martin and the Montpellier 'Cello Quartet
(Elgar Room, Royal Albert Hall. 16th November 2013. Review by Sebastian Scotney) 

The singer/ broadcaster Claire Martin has thrown a good part of her huge energy in the past year into working with the Montpellier 'Cello Quartet (Dan James, Sarah Stevens, Joe Giddey and Siriol Hugh-Jones) who, like her, live in Brighton. Musically, it means that she forgoes the rhythm anchor of a jazz trio, and takes a much more proactive role in shaping musical time. As a performance, which she leads, literally, from the front, it really works.

She has also been very active encouraging composers and arrangers to get involved in this: the late Richard Rodney Bennett, Mark-Anthony Turnage, Joe Stilgoe, Laurence Cottle, Simon Woolf and Dan James from the 'cello quartet have all written pieces.

At this London debut of the group, in the Elgar Room of the Royal Albert Hall (Door 8, Level 3, some of our reviewers have been known to get themselves lost) it was impressive to hear the fruits of this commissioning work, fashioned into a programme with quite a few gems, and traversing a huge range of styles, This collaboration has the sense of a venture which could easily grow further, as more arrangers and composers get inveigled and involved.

The classic sound of a 'cello section is easy to respond to. It's used to great effect in Zaccaria's Prayer from Verdi's Nabucco , in Rossini's William Tell Overture, or Villa-Lobos' Bachianas Brasilieras No 5. People who know that sound well will be surprised at how the range of effects can be extended, the kind of mood created can be broadened. As Claire Martin pointed out, nobody - least of all her - would have ever expected her to be singing Greg Lake's 70's prog rock ballad “Still You Turn me on” with four 'cellos.

For me, the 'known known' in the programme was the late Richard Rodney Bennett's arrangement of Kurt Weill's My Ship. There's not much to be said: it is quite simply a fabulous piece of music, pretty close to perfection if such a thing exists. Knowing that it is one of his last arrangements - and that it is written for a group of musicians who live close to the sea - it has a very special poignancy.

 I was also bowled over by Joe Stilgoe's song Lost for Words. The song is about a man who can't find the right words to woo someone he's in love with. It is a particularly clever song. The melody begins insistently  on the 'and of one' rather than on the first beat, and Claire Martin finds all kinds of ways to portray that hesitation with different attacks and rhythmic delays on that repeated motif in the song, She also tells a lovely story well worth hearing in the events which the song describes - which I won't spoil.

 Mark-Antony Turnage's arrangement of Joni Mitchell's Two Grey Rooms has an extraordinary effect, something very unusual in string writing. Turnage creates a particularly eerie atmosphere by using the incredibly rare technique of writing non-concordant bowing. That phrase doesn't have any matches in Google, and so far my string quartet gurus have yet to find another example. Anyone?

I also enjoyed a song which deals with the kind of emotions of which nobody can ever be proud. It's Laurence Cottle's arrangement of Claire Martin's own song, a cha-cha called “A Word in Edgeways”, about resenting time spent with self-absorbed people. It served as a reminder that negativity in its own way can be completely self-fulfilling, and also that dark sentiments which are an undeniable part of life are often absent for the song repertoire. Carly Simon's You're So Vain was another.

It's a varied, good and entertaining evening, and can be highly recommended.

Claire Martin wrote THIS PREVIEW for LondonJazz at an early stage of the project. 

There is another outing soon for this project. It's a charity evening in aid of the Brighton Womens Centre at the Old Market in Brighton  on Thursday 19th December 2013, 7.30pm

3 comments:

  1. The combination of Claire Martin's smokey, seductive voice with the mellow sound of the Montpelier jazz cello quartet was really compelling. Great virtuoso performances from Montpelier too - and their opening piece "Invasion" was something quite fresh and different! A really great evening out.

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  2. Claire is and always has been a performer and artist of great taste and is world class.
    Love her.

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  3. This was a brilliant gig,engaging on many levels.
    The cello quartet created a great back drop for Claire's rich vocals.

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