"He Never Mentioned Love," British jazzbird Claire Martin's twelfth album on the prestigious Scottish jazz label Linn, is her tribute to the esteemed late American jazz singer Shirley Horn, who's too little-known to the general public. The album comes to us in hybrid SACD format, containing eleven songs associated with Horn, and a cover of Leon Russell's "A Song for You." It also contains two new songs, one, "Slowly But Shirley," with witty words by Martin herself, and music by Laurence Cottle, the album's bassist/producer.
Martin, a multiple-award winning performer whom some have described as "the Madonna of British Jazz," describes this album as "a really heart-felt hour of remembering someone who I really loved." Horn was known for her intimate, whisper in the ear, story-telling approach; songs done at a slow tempo that allowed no place to hide. Martin, a favorite at London's well-known jazz venue, Ronnie Scott's, and New York's equally well-known venue, the Oak Room at the Plaza Hotel, can do that same kind of lovely story-telling, but she can also deliver a smoky, sexy mood piece. She further remarks, "My friends say I'm 50% tart, 50% nun." Indeed.
The album at hand is dominated by slow songs, as you would expect. The title song is simply beautiful, the most touching of a serving of beautiful ballads. However, Martin and guest performer Jim Mullen have reimagined "Everything Must Change," giving it a nice bossa nova beat. "All Night Long" comes to us swinging, loose and lively. "LA Breakdown" has been sped up to a hard-driving, bluesy waltz that would feel at home in the Ray Charles songbook; it's just a show stopper.
Oddly enough, this is the first and only tribute album to Ms. Horn since she's passed, but she's been well-served by it.