Rebecca Martin's Middlehope starts out as a quirky collection of jazz ballads. But about halfway through, the vocalist turns her attention to two pop/rock-oriented songs by Jesse Harris, who happens to be one of Norah Jones' main songwriters. In fact, the second of these two, "One Flight Down," appears on Jones' debut disc, Come Away With Me. Martin and Jones do seem to share a fondness for the contemporary singer/songwriter aesthetic, but Martin is more of a jazzer; her world-weary drawl gives a lift to old tunes like "Bewitched," "The Sweetest Sounds," "Dindi," and Johnny Mercer's "How Do You Say Auf Wiedersehn." Martin's band includes husband/bassist Larry Grenadier, drummer Jorge Rossy, and tenor saxophonist Bill McHenry, but the album's truly defining sound is created by guitarists Kurt Rosenwinkel and Steve Cardenas, a twosome who has graced ensembles led by Paul Motian and Marc Johnson. (They're pretty easy to tell apart; Rosenwinkel takes most of the solos.) Without any other accompaniment, the guitarists frame a particularly vulnerable performance by Martin on the closing "Where Is Love," weaving together shimmering, intersecting lines that obliquely define each unfolding harmony. The band communicates with utmost sensitivity on "A Fine Spring Morning," which is played entirely rubato. And McHenry beautifully shadows the chromatic descending lines of "Midnight Sun" with carefully chosen harmonies. He also sings (who knew?) on "Dindi," doubling the tender melody an octave below Martin. Highly recommended.
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AllMusic Review by David R. Adler