STACEY KENT – DOWNBEAT – 5-STARS
I KNOW I DREAM: THE ORCHESTRAL SESSIONS
Stacey Kent’s mezzo-soprano voice is a beautiful instrument for offsetting orchestral accompaniment, a fact that I KNOW I DREAM illustrates well. The orchestra, a 52-piece London studio assemblage, has a lushness that would smother Nelson Riddle – yet Kent cuts through it effortlessly.
In fairness, the arrangements hardly compete with Kent. But the singer has a relatively soft, restrained voice that on a less-skilled performer might easily be overpowered. Kent is incisive even at a near-whisper, as on the tender arrangement of Jobim’s “Photograph.”
Her voice becomes a featured instrument against saxophonist Jim Tomlinson’s vivacious samba “Make It Up.” Indeed the effect in a song with a segmented lyric line, like the French-language “Avec le Temps,” is very much like a concerto, with rich strings blooming in the spaces Kent leaves.
Along with the Jobim and other standards are several originals, composed by Tomlinson and several lyricists. One of the two best songs, the latter role is author Kazuo Ishiguro’s – Kent’s longtime collaborator and a Nobel laureate. “Bullet Train” puts Kent in a dream, with familiar faces around her.
The closing “The Changing Lights” is I KNOW I DREAM’s crown jewel, a bittersweet memory that could be a companion piece to Joni Mitchell’s “The Last Time I Saw Richard.” It’s the capstone of a nearly perfect vocal jazz album. – Michael J. West
ALL ABOUT JAZZ album review: “I KNOW I DREAM”
Dec 22, 2017
by Dan Bilawsky
Stacey Kent has practically done it all over the past twenty years, selling north of two million albums, putting her gorgeously delicate stamp on standards, introducing fresh tunes into the canon, racking up awards, and bringing her flawless voice to fans in more than fifty countries. But one thing she hadn’t done prior to this point is record an album with an orchestra. Cross that one off the list now and bathe your ears in this spellbinding music.
With I Know I Dream, Kent’s voice receives a warm embrace from a sizeable orchestra containing nearly sixty musicians. But rather than force her to play up to sweeping peaks or grandiose ideals, the strings and winds manage to magnify the warmth and confidential tone endemic to Kent’s work. Somehow, this influx of sounds leads to an even further dimming of the lights and sharpening of the emotional intent. It’s intoxicating understatement at its finest.
Kent’s sensitivity, grace, and multilingual savoir faire all contribute to this pleasure cruise. She serves as an expert tour guide through songs of love, moments of nostalgic reflection, and expressions of joy. Her voice can act as a ray of sunshine or a consoling hand, but above all, it serves as a mirror for the heart.
Pieces like “Bullet Train,” powered by a contemporary polish and groove, and “Make It Up,” with a perky Brazilian flavor, both serve as aural pick-me-ups; forays into French—sly-turned-direct during Serge Gainsbourg’s “Les Amours Perdues,” emotionally gripping on Léo Ferré’s “Avec Le Temps”—leave singular memories hanging in the mist; and scaled back settings like “I Know I Dream,” where voice and piano commune with the moment before a stunningly gauzy orchestral draping is drawn around Kent, leave you breathless. Few singers can work their way into a lyric like this.
These arrangements—most by Tommy Laurence, a few involving Jim Tomlinson’s hand with or without a partner—fit Kent like a glove, playing to her quiet strengths. The material is first-rate, with Jobim gems and French tearjerkers sharing space with appealing songs Tomlinson co-wrote with (either) Cliff Goldmacher, Kazuo Ishiguro, or Antonio Ladeira. And the musicians, of course, deserve high marks in working to the parameters of the Stacey Kent aesthetic. While this is but one more jewel in a discography with many, it’s one that deserves singling out for it’s luster.
STACEY KENT – DOWNBEAT
THE CHANGING LIGHTS
What is it about Stacey Kent? What makes her such a singular, instantly recognizable singer? The voice itself is surpassingly clear, warm and calm, and, in an androgynous age, unequivocally feminine. There’s also her judicious phrasing, the way she creates an intimate sense of conversation with the listener. Or maybe it’s the precise articulation — not just of words and notes, but of feelings. Sometimes she may remind you of Blossom Dearie or João Gilberto, but, like those two masters, Kent is a one-off.
The analogy to Gilberto is especially relevant: The Changing Lights is a love letter to Brazilian music. In the liner notes, offered in both Portuguese and English, she offers “a special thanks to all the composers and lyricists, musicians and poets of Brazil who have been such an inspiration to me.” A best-selling artist in Brazil and France — she’s often touted as “the American voice loved around the world”— she sings here mostly in English, with several songs in flawless Portuguese and French. (She is also
fluent in Italian and German.)
Her partnership with her husband, saxophonist-arranger-composer Jim Tomlinson, is in full flower on this outing. Tomlinson, who is musically as gentle of temperament as his spouse, is a pre-bop swing player influenced by Lester Young and bossa nova-era Stan Getz. His tasteful, melodic playing always complements Kent’s vocals, never competes; and his elegantly swinging arrangements form velvet-lined jewel cases for Kent and her songs.
Three of the album’s six originals continue the partnership of Tomlinson and British novel- ist Kazuo Ishiguro, who previously collaborated on striking songs for Kent such as “The Ice Hotel” and “Breakfast On The Morning Tram.” Tomlinson’s discursive, inventive melodies are a good match for Ishiguro’s frankly romantic, literary story-songs, such as “The Summer We Crossed Europe In The Rain” and the title tune, about longago lovers who meet again later in life, which is almost novelistic in scope. As compelling and interesting as these songs are, they can’t help but be eclipsed by masterpieces like “This Happy Madness,” the Jobim treat that
opens the set, and Marcos Valle’s “The Face I Love,” both of which include lyrical, assured solos by Tomlinson. Legendary Bossa Nova
singer-songwriter, Roberto Menescal, plays guitar on his classic “O Barquinho (The Little Boat)” and on a new Tomlinson song, “A Tarde,” with lyrics by Portuguese poet Antonio Ladeira. A first-rate rhythm section featuring pianist Graham Harvey and guitarist John Parricelli provides subtle sup- port that rewards repeated listening.
Even if a few song choices may seem overly familiar (“One Note Samba,” “How Insensitive”), they are still spot-on renderings, arguably as good as anybody has recorded. One of the disc’s two bonus tracks is “Quiet Nights”—but before you say, “Oh no, not another ‘Corcovado,’” this one offers a highly original take on the standard, with an arrangement featuring a string quartet playing a pizzicato samba beat.
Kent and Tomlinson apparently have something very special going on. Together, they create a warm cocoon, an ideal romantic world that conveys the true spirit of Brazilian song. —Allen Morrison