The Waiting Game
Claire Martin never actually scats on her debut; rather, she delivers the rhythms of great scatting through sheer energy. The possibility that the music might break away from her unbridled singing gives a necessary dynamism to her classic bebop style. Improvising swing with a rare authority, she runs with the surefootedness of a mountain goat; her jazzy phrasings and complex interpretations come not only on jazz standards, but also on songs from Joni Mitchell and Thomas Dolby. (For reluctant purists, Rodgers and Hart and others make appearances, too.) The Waiting Game conveys the magic of a cabaret performance with the precision of the studio; you can practically see Martin draped across a grand piano coyly singing "Be Cool" or flirting on the jaunty "You Hit the Spot."
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The Chieftains explore the kinship between Ireland and the region of Spain known as Galicia with unexpectedly delightful results. In the mariachi-style "Guadalupe" (with Los Lobos and Linda Ronstadt), the flamenco beat of "Maneo," and the somber ballad "Galleguita/Tutankhamen," Santiago embraces the two cultures and hammers out a beautiful compromise no more evident than on "Dublin in Vigo." Cobbling together lilting folk with the unique sounds of the gaita (a Galician bagpipe), Santiago forms a cohesive synthesis of different cultures that is dramatic and highly listenable.
Stardust is both scattershot and banal. Natalie Cole combines many musical motifs, but the mix is an uncomfortable one. "Let's Face the Music and Dance" varies aimlessly among kitsch, scat, swing, and pop--sometimes without changing chords--and exemplifies the fact that the difference between a passable jazz song and a great one is often the arrangement. "Since I Fell in Love," a digitally reproduced duet sung with father Nat "King" Cole, is a notable exception, but it also highlights Stardust's primary deficiency: Natalie's tendency to shriek. Nat's been dead 30 years, but his warm, rolling way with a lyric only shows up Natalie's merely serviceable interpretations everywhere else. Still, that one song is about as good an arrangement as you'll find since Nelson Riddle died.
--Arnold Wayne Jones