There are interesting parallels to be drawn between Stacey Kent and Diana Krall. Both emerged in the mid-1990s, and a made a name for themselves re-interpreting the Great American Songbook. It was a timely reminder of the enduring quality of these great songs, but had the unfortunate side-effect of paving the way for the likes of Rod Stewart, who launched his own Songbook series in 2002. Both jazz singers seemed to recognize that this market was in danger of becoming over-saturated. Diana Krall released an album of partly self-penned songs in 2004, entitled The Girl In The Other Room. It received mixed reviews, and since then, her jazz credentials have floundered somewhat. Glad Rag Doll (2012) was an attempt to revisit her father’s old record collection, which sounded far less convincing than her earlier take on Nat ‘King’ Cole, whilst Wallflower (2014) should have been filed under easy listening, not jazz.
By contrast, Stacey Kent has carved herself an interesting niche. She has not written any of her own material, but her husband, saxophonist Jim Tomlinson, has been writing songs with the author, Kazuo Ishiguro. In addition, she has worked closely with a number of Brazilian musicians, including Marcos Valle and Roberto Menescal, which plays to her strengths, has helped to further broaden her repertoire and appeal.
Another way in which she continues to play to her strengths is in opting to play six nights at the intimate Ronnie Scott’s, rather than one or two nights at a much larger venue – such as the Royal Albert Hall. Which, incidentally, is where Diana Krall will be playing in late September.
She was joined by Jim Tomlinson on saxophone and flute, Graham Harvey on keyboards, Jeremy Brown on bass and Josh Morrison on bass. Stacey Kent herself also contributed some impressive acoustic guitar on some of the Brazilian tunes, which worked well.
The set list leaned heavily on her recent Brazilian recordings, and included Jobim’s Só Danço Samba (I Only Dance Samba), Meditation, Waters Of March and One Note Samba, and Marcos Valle’s The Face I Love and So Nice (Summer Samba). We were also treated to a couple of previews of her forthcoming collaboration with Roberto Menescal, Tenderly, which will be released in November.
Stacey Kent does not have the biggest range, but her singing style is perfectly suited to these tunes, and she used her voice to good effect, leaving the audience hanging on every word. Tomlinson was also on fine form. His playing seems to have become more Getz-like over the years, which cannot be a bad thing. My only complaint was that he played the flute on many of the Brazilian tunes, and I would rather have heard more of his saxophone. Tomlinson also impressed with his singing voice; a former chorister, he joined his wife for a duet on Waters Of March.
The rest of the band was somewhat anonymous. Graham Harvey switched to Fender for One Note Samba, and took a fine solo on The Face I Love, but was otherwise not given much time in the spotlight, whilst Josh Morrison was only given one solo.
The Brazilian tunes were broken up by some well-chosen standards, including a hushed read of That’s All, which was sung by Nat ‘King’ Cole in 1957, Happy Talk, Alfie, which featured a wonderful solo introduction by Tomlinson and an encore of Polka Dots And Moonbeams.
Stacey Kent played two lengthy sets, a total of eighteen songs, including a couple of requests from the crowd. She also kept the crowd entertained with some lovely anecdotes about her experiences working in Brazil, and how she and Jim Tomlinson had been singing together since they first started dating.
It had been several years since I last saw Stacey Kent perform, and in that time, she has partly reinvented herself. Whilst the set was clearly weighted towards her newer recordings, fans of her older work did not feel short-changed. They knew what to expect, and once again, she delivered – in a style which is very much her own.