Why do you think there are people in this world who play music and sing and write songs and open the doors to their hearts wide open for the rest of us to walk right in and become a part of their emotional environment?
Acceptance? Perhaps. Ego-stroking need? I would not doubt it could be so too. Loneliness? Ah, to many, indeed. The kind of loneliness that only comes when one has so much to say words don’t even happen the way they happen for most — and instead, notes and melodies give voice to the inner feelings of the soul that would otherwise drown in silence (unsaid, unseen, unfelt) in the most absolute darkness. But perhaps they mainly do it because we need them to do it — just as much they need to do it too.
And lucky for us, there is jazz to make it happen in an unbelievably astonishing way, with freedom of musical speech like you would never imagine. To that, let’s add Say It Isn’t So, featuring the lyrical and sigh provoking song writing of Irving Berlin, the voice of Claire Martin and the piano and voice of Richard Rodney Bennett, and we got ourselves the best recipe for romance known to humankind.
There is a certain musical intimacy in piano-and-voice-only recordings, an intimacy we surrender ourselves to. Martin’s voice is warm and well versed in an improvised discipline that does not forgive those who do not feel its freedom — and she feels it, from head to toes. She was born to sing jazz. Her previous work is as delightful and necessary as this one, but perhaps this one finds an even more spectacular scenario in its simplicity, where her vocal phrasing is impeccable and her tone is simply irresistible.
The arrangements are all Bennett’s — beautiful, flawless — and his voice and piano are just as entrancing as his female companion in this album. I couldn’t help picturing a young Irving Berlin gazing at this pair and smiling in awe, knowing he had found the perfect reason to write those songs we love so much, and the best vehicles to all of its romanticism and embedded magic.
My track picks, which are nothing but a mere (almost random!) introduction to this record, for all songs are just fantastic:
–“Stepping Out With My Baby”: A song I fell in love with when I heard Tony Bennett’s take on it years ago. I have rekindled that flame with this version. Fabulous! Martin on the mic, Bennett on piano.
–“Get Thee Behind Me, Satan/I Got Lost in His Arms”: Listening to her voice is a treasured moment here; the lyrics do not waste any time in this combination of two breathtaking love songs. Poetic, heartfelt … Berlin! What a master he was!
–“He Ain’t Got Rhythm”: Bennett takes on this song on his own, and I adore him! The reason why the American songbook still breathes and still means everything, even when it doesn’t talk about love, is wrapped up in this little song. Simply delicious!
–“How Deep is the Ocean”: It is almost impossible to avoid picking this out. A classic in its lyricism, astounding in its straightforwardness, a song to love and fall in love with and because of. Martin caresses every word, Bennett caresses every note. Can we ask for more?
–“Lonely Heart”: The wit of Berlin’s lyrics, always dipped in love and a longing for perfection and reciprocity in those feelings he wrote so very well about, are evoked in this song, with an incredibly charming Bennett in charge of all the magic.
–“Say It Isn’t So”: Who hasn’t sighed listening to this song? I know I have. Let Richard Rodney Bennett whisper this one in your ear, and you will finally fully understand the meaning of heartache. Bewildering, period.
–“Shakin’ the Blues Away/Blue Skies”: Feet tapping, heart pounding, smile provoking tunes. I can’t insist enough on Claire Martin’s perfect pitch and vocals. She’s also scatting in this one. With her, of course, Bennett on piano. What would Berlin say? What would he feel? I think he would approve and grin and be moved.
–“Waiting at the End of the Road”: The two pair up vocally in this closing track, and we suddenly are back in the 1930s, and they are as attractive as Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers ever were!
Impossible to match, Say It Isn’t So is so delicate and so sensitive you must let your guard down, and perhaps even listen to it in the quietness of your day, to fully give it the spotlight it deserves. Feel the voices, feel the lyrics, feel the romantic yearning behind the songs, the light-hearted energy, the simplicity of life, love and honest, down to earth truths of life — all under the most starry-eyed setting ever created, that belongs to that time when songwriters amazed listening audiences with their bare words and the most striking music arrangements … while the American songbook was being born.
Irving Berlin has been beautifully honored many times, and this one is by far one of my favorite projects featuring his music, ever.
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