LISTEN to the first few gently swinging, whiskey-and-honey tones from English singer Claire Martin, watch your feet as they begin to irresistibly tap in time with the urgent propulsiveness of her rhythmic swing, find yourself responding to the intimate, in-your-ear tenderness of her lyrical interpretations and her jazz authenticity immediately becomes apparent.
So apparent that it's hard to believe that she has never performed in Los Angeles. She is arguably one of the most highly regarded singers in Europe, repeatedly winning best vocalist awards from the British Jazz Awards and the BBC Jazz Awards since 1995. Her album "Make This City Ours" was the only CD by a European singer to hit the No. 1 spot in the Gavin charts, and she has been highly praised by the likes of Tony Bennett and composer-pianist Richard Rodney Bennett (who wrote the liner notes for her debut album). Add to that the fact that she has studied, recorded and performed in New York and it's difficult to understand why this gifted artist hasn't made the trek west.
The long delay is over. Martin makes her debut Southland appearance on New Year's Eve at an elegant fundraising event sponsored by the Rising Jazz Stars Foundation. Further enhancing the performance, she'll be accompanied by the trio headed by of the gifted young Israeli pianist Tamir Hendelman.
Martin lists Ella Fitzgerald, Shirley Horn, Sheila Jordan and Peggy Lee as primary influences. That's an intriguing musical perspective, one that represents an impressively wide musical palate -- Fitzgerald's brightly swinging jazz chops, Horn's extraordinary balladry, Jordan's out-of-the-box adventurousness and Lee's pop-jazz crossover skills. Remarkably, all those elements manage to come together in Martin's singing, buoyed by an omnivorous musicality that allows her to embrace and make the most of material reaching from Buddy Holly and Burt Bacharach to Milton Nascimento and Blossom Dearie.
Martin is one of a triumvirate of world-class female vocalists -- from different parts of the globe -- who are creating difficult New Year's Eve decision-making for fans of jazz singing.
Brazil's mesmerizing Flora Purim is performing at the Jazz Bakery with the percussion sorcery of her husband, Flora Airto.
And America's own jazz sweetheart, Tierney Sutton, brings her crystalline sound and superb musicality to Catalina Bar & Grill.
But it'll take a jet pack (or a police escort) to make it to all three of these eminently worthwhile events.
* Claire Martin at the Rising Jazz Stars Foundation, Beverly Hills. New Year's Eve. $200 (75% tax deductible) includes food and beverage. Reservations only. (866) 529-9448 or e-mail george@ risingjazzstars.com.
* Flora Purim, the Jazz Bakery, 3233 Helms Ave., Culver City. 8:30 and 10:30 p.m. Sunday. $75 early or late show; $100 entire evening, including some food and beverage. (310) 271-9039.
* Tierney Sutton, Catalina Bar & Grill, 6725 W. Sunset Blvd., Hollywood. 7 p.m. Sunday. Dinner package, $125; drinks package, $90. (323) 466-2210. (Sutton also performs 8:30 and 10:30 p.m. sets Friday and Saturday; $20 to $35).