To Up and Go - 2:46
Beyond the Hillside - 3:47
Some Other Place, Some Other Time - 3:44
Sophisticated Lady - 4:18
On a Rooftop - 3:13
In the Early Winter Trees - 3:38
Don't Mean a Thing at All - 3:07
God is in the Details - 5:12
Safe This Time - 2:31
Beholden - 2:50
Oh Well - 2:39
A place in the Country - 2:20
Honestly - 2:17
Rebecca Martin - vocals, guitar
Larry Grenadier - acoustic bass
Dan Reiser - drums
Peter Rende - piano, keyboards
This record has been a long time in the making. A lot of living and energy has gone into the creation of this group of songs,"" Rebecca Martin says of her elegantly spare, eloquently direct new album Twain.
Her sixth release under her own name and her third for the Sunnyside label, the warmly intimate set offers a uniquely expressive showcase for Martin's artistry, with a dozen resonant new original compositions and one classic interpretation, all performed in understated acoustic arrangements based around the artist's indelible voice and supple guitar work and the subtly inventive support of her husband and longtime collaborator, noted jazz bassist Larry Grenadier.
"My records over the years," Martin observes, "have become more quiet and introspective, much probably having to do with the need and appreciation of personal space. The recordings I make are a reflection of wherever I am at that time, so it makes sense that my reaction to a world that feels speedy, harsh and loud is to offer music that provokes slowness, emotion and quiet.”
Martin's drive towards a more spacious sound yields deeply compelling results on Twain, whose title refers to an old English definition of the word as a synonym for the number two. On such melodically arresting, emotionally vivid new tunes as ""To Up and Go,"" ""Don't Mean A Thing at All,"" ""Beyond the Hillside"" and ""God Is In the Details,"" Martin sings with a quietly commanding intensity that lends immediacy to her lyrical insights, while her distinctive reading of the Duke Ellington classic ""Sophisticated Lady"" once again demonstrates the uncanny interpretive skills that she previously revealed on a pair of much-celebrated standards albums.
The musical and emotional qualities that distinguish Twain have been constants through a recording and performing career that's spanned two decades, allowing Martin to transcend genre distinctions, record with some of the world's most esteemed musicians and perform at some of the world's most prestigious venues and festivals.
Martin as a young girl left her rural hometown of Rumford Point, Maine to pursue her musical ambitions in New York, where she met fellow singer-songwriter Jesse Harris. The duo formed the influential group Once Blue, which gained a devoted local following and won a record deal with EMI. Once Blue's 1995 debut release won international acclaim, but a second album got caught up in record-company politics and went unheard by the public until 2003.
Martin launched her solo career with 1998's self-written, self-produced Thoroughfare, whose introspective songcraft established Martin as a significant individual force. She expanded her reputation as a singer's singer—and as a performer whose work defies easy pigeonholing—with her self-produced 2002 standards collection Middlehope, which The New York Times named one of the year's ten best jazz albums. Martin's next album of originals, 2004's People Behave Like Ballads, was a genre-bending collection that once again demonstrated the breadth of the artist's interests and abilities.
In 2005, Martin teamed with seminal jazz drummer/composer Paul Motian as featured vocalist on Motian's On Broadway Volume 4 or the Paradox of Continuity, becoming the first singer to accompany Motian on one of his recordings. The experience, Martin says, was a pivotal one that's informed her attitude towards her own recordings in the years since.
"The experience in making music with Paul changed my life and set me on a brand new path in how I approached my own music," she explains. "It was the first time I'd recorded without a chordal instrument, and that was a revelation for me. It was also liberating to be working with one of my idols in an atmosphere that was completely down to earth and blue-collar. Everybody involved came in to do the job in a couple of takes to be finished by dinnertime. It was wonderful to be a part of something like that – where not any particular one of the musicians stood out. It was a real collaboration and working unit.”
When the record was released in 2006, Martin was asked to perform with Motian at Carnegie Hall in celebration of Lorraine Gordan of the Village Vanguard, and later performed the music of the record for a two week period at the Village Vanguard – being one of the first singers to perform at the clubs request in a decade.
Martin began to put that less-is-more ethic to work after moving to the Sunnyside label with her 2008 release The Growing Season, produced by Kurt Rosenwinkel and featuring Larry Grenadier and Brian Blade on bass and drums, respectively. The album won Martin some of the most enthusiastic press raves of her career, including a New York Times critic's pick, which praised her "warm, unguarded voice, an instrument of modesty and forbearance," adding, "She can make the same phrase seem philosophical and conversational, and about as natural as sighing... She makes this album feel momentous, in the quietest possible way."
The Growing Season's success led to an invitation to perform a week's worth of headlining shows at New York's Village Vanguard, making Martin the first singer-songwriter to play the legendary jazz club in more than 30 years. Martin followed those career landmarks with 2010's When I Was Long Ago, another collection of personalized standards, this one delivered in spare three-piece arrangements featuring Martin, Grenadier and saxophonist Bill McHenry.
On her latest recoreding Twain, Martin and Grenadier recorded most of the record in a small bedroom in the apartment of longtime cohort and pianist Pete Rende, who produced, engineered and mixed the album. ""For the most part, how we came across on that day became the record,"" Martin notes, adding, ""In 2011, I lost my speaking voice completely for many months. It has been a long recovery back to where I am now, though the way I sing today is much different than before. It was a universal reset or something where now what is natural is to simply use the voice to communicate the song rather than making some tremendous effort to ‘sing it’. This was all very inutitiave and natural for me in standards, but in my own music I’ve been tentative in presenting them in that way until now. I’ve developed some bad habits over the past 20 years by denying myself the most direct pathway for the simple, authentic voice. There are deep, emotional reasons for that and this group of songs have provided me the vehicle to help move more of it out of my body. Larry placed a great deal of care into making them work in a duo context. There were a few that were a bit harder to pull off in this way, and for that reason, we added some drums in places and other textures to help move the album along."
Martin's talents as a collaborator, and the inspiration she draws from communion with her creative peers, recently resulted in the formation of Tillery, a trio she shares with fellow solo singer-songwriters Gretchen Parlato and Becca Stevens. The three kindred spirits' seamless rapport has been wowing live audiences since they first joined forces in 2010, and the threesome continues to work together when schedules permit. Tillery is scheduled to perform at the Kennedy Center in June, 2013.
Martin has also put her organizational skills to work on behalf of her community in her adopted hometown of Kingston, New York, where she has been active in promoting government transparency and citizen civic involvement. In 2009, Martin was awareded community activist of the year by the Ulster County YWCA and in 2010, began serving as Executive Director of the Kingston Land Trust, an urban land trust in the Hudson Valley. She recently stepped down from her duties in order to prepare for the release of Twain and other musical endeavors.
"I continue to be an optimist, in life and in music, and I try to remain open to the opportunities that present themselves whatever they might be, and which have led me to all sorts of interesting places. It's kind of like fishing. You throw in your line and wait to see what you'll catch. I still get off on the not knowing, and always eager to see what the next adventure will bring, challenges and all.”