She wasn’t even a jazz singer. She was a guitar-strumming folk singer who fled Maine for the big time in New York. The big time gave her a contract, one album, and then spat her out. But she kept plugging away, falling into a relationship with the Paul Motian Trio’s brilliant bassist, Larry Grenadier. Motian, a pivotal drummer/composer as well as band-leader, asked Rebecca Martin to sing on his new album. Despite the giant leap out of her comfort zone, she accepted.

The result was 2006’s On Broadway Vol. 4, subtitled The Paradox of Continuity. Completed by tenor saxophonist Chris Potter, Motian’s trio had Martin and pianist Masabumi Kikuchi guesting on different tracks. Together they tore away all the Broadway material’s frilly edges, exposing essences conveying a misty, romantic nostalgia, like an old love affair remembered with fondness rather than bitterness.

In his last 20 years Paul Motian was a near-perfect improviser.

In his last 20 years Paul Motian was a near-perfect improviser.Credit:Robert Lewis

The opening instrumental, The Last Dance, conjures the lyric: a venue closing in the wee hours; two people dancing on toward dawn, for fear of separation. Potter’s tenor emits lonely, gull-like cries, the piano makes wry asides, and the bass occasional massive, supporting columns of sound, while Motian’s brushes scratch and scrabble like the dancers’ feet.

Martin joins for Tea for Two, and it’s as if someone stole a distant childhood memory and held it up to a distorting mirror. The song always seemed as disposable as a wet tissue, but now, sung in slow motion, it aches with a new poignancy. Martin sings it tentatively, vulnerably; injecting a quiet desperation, so the question, “Can’t you see how happy we would be?” carries unexpected irony, and Potter’s tenor, fluttering and crooning about her, becomes the lover to whom the song is addressed.

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