Performance Review

Ian & Claire Martin, Purcell Room

The Times

Alyn Shipton, December 2009

For several years the jazz singers Claire Martin and Ian Shaw have offered an evening of seasonal escapism at the Purcell Room in the run-up to Christmas. This year's edition of their Early Christmas Stocking was a well-honed mixture of the artfully rehearsed and the brilliantly spontaneous. There was no backing band and no paraphernalia, just the two singers and Shaw's characteristic, if occasionally eccentric, accompaniment at the piano.

Like all the best jazz concerts, the risk-taking jostled with the firm-footed, so that a pause for an invisible (and inaudible) guitar solo brought a laugh and then appreciative applause as the two re-entered bang on the beat, in pitch and in perfect harmony. Their a capella singing together was a delight, with Martin holding the vocal line as Shaw's voice dextrously wove above and below her, changing the rhythm, texture and feel, notably on a spirited version of I'll Never Fall in Love Again. A mixture of jazz standards and love songs gave way to a brief segment of yuletide fare, complete with Christmas hats, before the pair reverted to highlights from their long collaboration. Shaw's witty additions to the lyrics of Making Whoopee were as downbeat and throwaway as his urbane announcements, which suggested that he could prosper as a stand-up comedian. Meanwhile Martin showed that she remains a supreme and sensitive interpreter of ballads, not least on an excellently measured But Not for Me.

Overall, what the audience had turned up to hear was a good-time selection of jazz songs, with plenty of opportunities to join in. Timid silence greeted Shaw's first invitation for everyone to sing the chorus of Please Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood, but soon each invitation to take part was enthusiastically taken up. However, Shaw's party piece, a singalong Latin version of Old MacDonald Had a Farm, taken at breakneck speed, proved too much for even his most devoted fans, dissolving into giggles and riotous applause.