Twain, an archaic term for two, is a reference to the couple’s first intent to record the songs alone. They were originally recorded only with Martin and Grenadier, thus the name. Nevertheless Martin said she, Grenadier and Pete Rende (their co-producer in whose apartment in Brooklyn they recorded the songs) decided it needed to be “rounded off” for the album, “in order to move it along.”
So Rende, a musician Martin respectfully refers to as an unsung hero, flawlessly laid the piano accompaniment over the recorded songs. After that, Dan Rieser overlaid the drums to complete the album. Martin describes Rende’s moderating and the whole process itself as technically “very tricky” because the tempo changes. “The base and drums provide the space and support for the song. Without it, a singer would have to work really hard.” And here, the process was semi-reversed. It’s akin to fastening a hammock to a swaying tree. Happily, it worked. The result is a tight yet loose enough framework that allows smooth swinging tempos and a breezy melodic ride.
On the night of the celebratory release at Rockwood Music Hall, the songs were performed as they were originally intended: two people, an acoustic guitar, a bass and
her voice. Martin and Grenadier alighted the stage modestly and unceremoniously, happy to be back in Manhattan and to perform in front of music lovers and friends. Bathed in light beams of blue and red and not much for pomp and circumstance, they tuned their instruments, commenced to play and she began To Up and Go.
Rebecca Martin’s voice cannot be described in one or two adjectives. Smoky. Telling. Emotion filled. Soothing. All do fine, but none portrays fully the experience of listening to her swing, then skip, then land gently from one note, to the next, to the next.
It is refreshing to hear a singer not “get in the way of the song,” one who doesn’t feel the need to riff like a diva on ecstasy. Martin’s style, in contrast, sways. Although performed with strength and security, it is always graceful and, more poignantly, always purposeful. A catch in her throat is the raw stroke blending the edges of harmony and reality. She exercises much discipline on the trademark and uses the technique mostly to underscore the depth of intimacy of a particular lyric or melody.
Nate Chinen once succinctly wrote of her, “As jazz singers go, Rebecca Martin exudes the plainest sort of poise, almost radical in its utter lack of flash…Her embellishments registered on the granular level, in the placement of a phrase or a light catch in her throat…she made them seem less like songs than like articulations of her state of mind.”
Of course, one can also tell that while she preciously handles the notes, like Debussy, Martin gloriously dwells in the in-between spaces. Her phrasing has equal measure of
technicality and emotion, breaking words midway, perhaps setting the last syllable or two, up then down, in a manner that wouldn’t have completed the thought or emotion otherwise had she not done so.
In a review of Martin’s Middlehope album in 2002, Ben Ratliff also of The New York Times described Martin as “a soprano reminiscent of the range of a young Joni Mitchell….Rebecca Martin can sing slow swing with a supreme sense of centering around the pulse, redesigning melodies and making her voice crinkle at emotional points."
Her singing is genuine, honest and uncontrived. Some have described elements of Garland, of Mitchell, of Cline and of Clooney or even Carpenter among others. And of course, there was always, at least in her earlier albums, the inevitable comparison to Jones. It was a comparison true jazz followers were working to stomp out so Martin might bloom without prejudice.
About Middlehope Donna Kimura of Jazz Review wrote, “Listen to the opening line from the Rodgers and Hart classic ‘Bewitched.’ Martin is both young and weary as she sings, ‘He’s a fool, and don’t I know it.’ Her honey-and-whiskey voice delivers a kick to even the most familiar of songs. Her crossover appeal will no doubt lead to comparisons to Norah Jones, who’s been caught in a ‘is she or isn’t she jazz’ debate….While both women blur musical boundaries, Martin’s effort is a solid jazz album … She's already earned the praise of jazz stalwarts Pat Metheny and Brad Mehldau.”
But of the newer elements in her delivery, most noticeable in Twain is a strong maternal quality, the kind that reassures a troubled child or is used to tuck one safely in bed. Whether her voice has naturally evolved in this manner or that it’s transcendental given the theme of the album is beside the point. What it brings is a sense of nuance, of even more seasoned narrating, of delicate cradling of lyrics. Martin’s voice in this collection of songs is as especially nurturing as it is melodious, at once impassioned but effortless and worry free.
“I am not as concerned about what people think of me (anymore), which most performers end up getting into,” she explains. “As a performer you are presenting something and you expect everyone to listen. And when they’re not, you tend to elevate it, or get louder or do more of whatever your shtick is. But somehow I have gotten to a point where I trust this music that I’ve always had, that I’m going to be making for my whole life. I do care, but I don’t expect. I’m no longer putting pressure on music to give me something that I think I need.”
This ease allows the audience to forget that she is performing live in front of them. Grenadier, one of the top bassists in the country, joins the narration, each adding color and scenery and passion to the tale, each communicating in his and her own way.
It is a chance to speak. “My songs say so much more in what the music says and in the things I don’t say.” She relishes putting “space in the song to think,” and allows her heart to speak, effectively singing in the silence.
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