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Stacey Kent : Summer Me, Winter Me

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    Posted: 05 Dec 2023 at 5:59am
A highly accomplished recording. Stacy Kent is a class act and this album will doubtless delight her legions of fans. The singing is peerless and the arrangements intelligent and understated.

Stacey Kent

“Summer Me, Winter Me”

(naive Records BLV 8224)

Stacey Kent – vocals, Jim Tomlinson – tenor sax, flute, alto flute, clarinet, guitar, percussion, keyboards


Art Hirahara – piano, Tom Hubbard – double bass, Anthony Pinciotti – drums (tracks 1, 2, 3, 4, 5,7, 9,10)

Graham Harvey – piano, Jeremy Brown – double bass, Joshua Morrison – drums (tracks 6, 8, 11)

Aurelie Chenille – first violin, Claire Chabert – second violin, Fabrice Planchat – viola, Gabriel Planchat – cello (track 5)

Stacey Kent (born 1965) is an American jazz singer who spent many years living and working in the UK before eventually returning to the US. She came to Britain in the late 1980s to study at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama in London where she met saxophonist and multi-instrumentalist Jim Tomlinson, who she married in 1991. Kent became a popular presence on the UK jazz scene and a great favourite with British audiences. Now based in Charlottesville, Virginia she retains close links to the UK.

Tomlinson also acts as Kent’s musical director and arranger in addition to writing original songs for his wife to perform. Their creative partnership has flourished on a series of fifteen albums issued under Kent’s name, beginning with 1997’s “Close Your Eyes”, released on Candid Records. Kent has also recorded for the famous Blue Note record label but this latest release represents her first recording for the French imprint naive Records.

A frequent award winner Kent’s elegant vocal style has won her a global following that extends way beyond the usual jazz demographic. She may not be a ‘megastar’ in the pop and rock sense, but in jazz terms she’s definitely a ‘big name’.

Kent’s repertoire is largely based around her intimate and skilful interpretations of jazz standards but also includes original songs written for her by Tomlinson, whose lyrical collaborators include Cliff Goldmacher and the award winning novelist Kazuo Ishiguro. This new album includes three Tomlinson originals, with the words of both lyricists represented. The remaining eight tracks are from the standards canon, with Michel Legrand particularly well represented.

All of the songs on the new album are ones that Kent and Tomlinson have been performing to live audiences for some time but which they have never been previously recorded. Although not officially a ‘requests’ album the song selection does represent a response to audience comments and demands.

The material was documented over the course of three separate recording sessions conducted in New York and in the UK during 2019. The majority of the performances feature Kent and Tomlinson alongside a trio featuring pianist Art Hirahara, bassist Tom Hubbard and drummer Anthony Pinciotti. The one UK session features the British trio of Graham Harvey, Jeremy Brown and Joshua Morrison. One of the New York pieces also features the playing of a string quartet.

Kent learned her trade singing in London’s jazz clubs and there’s still a warmth and intimacy about her vocal delivery that helps endear her to audiences. The album commences with the Michel Legrand composed title track, with lyrics by Marilyn and Alan Bergman. Introduced by Pinciotti at the drums the piece has an effervescent arrangement that features Tomlinson on flute and includes a sparkling piano solo from Hirahara.

Kent has a long standing affinity for French music and culture and sings in French on a second Legrand song, “La Valse des lilas”. This is ushered in by an unaccompanied tenor cadenza from Tomlinson, the warmth of his sound later matched by Kent’s intimate and yearning vocal delivery. There’s a lyrical tenor sax solo from Tomlinson as the trio of Hirahara, Hubbard and Pinciotti provide subtle and sensitive support, with the drummer deploying brushes throughout.

“Thinking About The Rain” is the first of the original songs and was written by Tomlinson and lyricist Cliff Goldmacher in 2017. It was subsequently performed on Kent’s 2019/20 tour and now finds its way onto disc. Kent’s wistful vocal is augmented by Tomlinson’s airy flute solo.

Kent’s love of all things French is further expressed via “Under Paris Skies”, a song that as “Sous le ciel de Paris”  first formed part of the chanson tradition before being transformed into a jazz standard with the addition of Kim Gannon’s English language lyric. Kent and her colleagues deliver a swinging jazz version of the song with Gannon’s words complemented by Hubbard’s propulsive bass line and Tomlinson’s frothy flute. Tomlinson switches to tenor sax to deliver a fluent solo.

Kent’s version of Jacques Brel’s “If You Go Away” features her singing Rod McKuen’s English language lyric, initially in the company of Hirahara’s piano, but later augmented by double bass and brushed drums. The sounds of a string quartet are subsequently added, but there’s no danger of the arrangement over-egging the pudding as the extra layers only add gravitas to Kent’s intimate vocal delivery.

On a well paced and neatly structured recording a little light relief is soon on its way with a breezy Brazilian style arrangement of the Rodgers and Hammerstein song “Happy Talk”, with Tomlinson doubling on guitar and flute and also soloing on Stan Getz style tenor. The arrangement introduces the British trio of Harvey, Brown and Morrison, musicians that Kent has worked with regularly over the years.

Lerner and Loewe’s “Show Me” is given a more conventional jazz treatment. The arrangement features a number of changes in terms of pace and dynamics, which Kent and the ‘New York Trio’ handle with great aplomb. Tomlinson sits out on this one.

“Postcard Lover”, an original song by Tomlinson with lyrics by Ishiguro has previously been recorded live but this is its first studio outing. The words tell the tale of two former lovers living very different lives, one travelling the world, the other stuck at home awaiting missives from abroad – “divided by the oceans and the years” as the lyrics put it. The arrangement, featuring Tomlinson and the ‘British Trio’, includes the composer on flute.

The globe trotting theme continues as we return to Brazil for the Jobim classic “Corcovado”. The wistful mood also remains as this is an introspective version of the song, introduced by the sombre sounds of Hubbard’s bowed bass. The mood lightens a little with the arrival of Kent’s English language vocals, but it’s still a more reflective interpretation than is usual, with Tomlinson again doubling on guitar and flute before moving to tenor.

The final original composition is the Tomlinson / Goldmacher tune “A Song That Isn’t Finished Yet”, another song dating from 2017 and performed on the 2019/20 tour. Kent sings the first two verses with Hirahara’s piano accompaniment only, followed by the addition of double bass and brushed drums. With its wistful lyrics allied to Kent’s intimate vocal it’s a song that very much has the feel of a jazz standard, an idea that is given even greater credence by Tomlinson’s warm toned ballad style tenor sax solo.

As Kent explains in her liner notes this is the only album on which she has recorded the same song twice. The disc closes with Jacques Brel’s “Ne me quitte pas”, now more familiar as “If You Go Away”. It features Kent singing Brel’s original French language lyrics in the company of the ‘British Trio’. Yearning solo vocals are first joined by piano and then by double bass and brushed drums. Kent is particularly skilled at singing in French and gives a beautiful, heartfelt performance on this song. “Both sets of lyrics are beautiful on their own terms and are equally deserving of inclusion, so I decided to record them both”, she explains. It has to be said that this final performance is remarkably moving, and arguably the best on the entire album.

Stacy Kent is a class act and this album will doubtless delight her legions of fans. The singing is peerless and the arrangements intelligent and understated. The original songs stand up well beside the astutely chosen selection of standards and all the instrumentalists perform admirably. My only quibble in this regard was that I would have liked to have heard a little more of the highly talented Hirahara as a soloist.

I have to admit that Kent’s music is a little too smooth for my personal tastes, I prefer something a bit spikier, but this is still a highly accomplished recording that will appeal to a great many listeners.

from www.thejazzmann.com

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