sat 02/03/2024

Stacey Kent, Ronnie Scott's - 'sublime miniaturism' | reviews, news & interviews

Stacey Kent, Ronnie Scott's - 'sublime miniaturism'

Stacey Kent, Ronnie Scott's - 'sublime miniaturism'

Extraordinarily delicate vocal gifts keep the multi-lingual singer the right side of cliché

'Kent’s vocal control and precision is extraordinary'

“Were we leaving Rio, or were we in New York?” Stacey Kent sings in “The Changing Lights”, the title song of her latest album, before moving on seamlessly to “Les Invalides, or Trafalgar Square”. The prosperous, wistful ennui that some of her recorded songs exude, propelled by her impeccable enunciation and glistening tone, is cosmopolitan with a slightly laminated, departure-lounge sameness. It can feel a little bit like a global franchise in polite enervation.

The lyrics, by her regular collaborator, the novelist Kazuo Ishiguro, are in fact leagues away in subtlety from the rhythmical nonsense of some jazz songs, but on CD, the tone sometimes feels blasé, the emotions teflon-coated.

Everything changes live. Kent’s vocal control and precision is extraordinary. Every movement of tongue and lip is audible. It’s an intimate listening experience. When she rolls her “r”s singing in French, it’s not a nasal, machine-gun attack, but a delicate, sonic massage. In Portuguese, the sheer variety of soft vowel and “sh” sounds, which can, in insensitive, non-native hands, sound like a distressed cat in mud, has the wallowing sensuality of the best native speaker, but with added delicacy. If you’ve only heard her recordings, a live concert is like seeing an oil painting on canvas for the first time, having only previously seen a photographic reproduction.

She never yells, or belts, and rarely takes the volume above a gentle mezzo-forte. Emphasis is more often by a sudden pianissimo that conjures an instant silence over the usual Ronnies’ background of chinking and chatter. She’s a musical miniaturist, who creates drama and tension with the tiniest, subtlest effects. She’s also a disarmingly effervescent and spontaneous presenter of her own work, full of charming anecdotes to flesh out a song’s backstory.

There’s one thing that Jim Tomlinson can’t do, however, and that’s sing

Her repertoire was a combination of songs from The Changing Lights and standards, with special requests from fans via her much-referenced Facebook page. The standards, including “I’ve Grown Accustomed to His Face” and “Let’s Call the Whole Thing Off”, used her sudden, dramatic pianissimos to great effect, though I wonder whether even the repetition-hardy world of jazz song needs to hear “eether/either” again. Given her vocal strengths, it was mainly the French and Brazilian repertoire that stood out, though Ishiguro’s English lyrics are as densely evocative as one would expect. Marcos Valle’s “So Nice”, with Kent on acoustic guitar, was a gem, small, light and sparkling; the final song, Keren Ann’s “Jardin d’Hiver”, was ecstatically beautiful.

The band takes its lead from Kent, playing with great control and delicacy. Jim Tomlinson was fine and muscular on tenor sax, and fine and sensitive on flute, both instruments as precisely phrased as Kent’s voice. The band, Graham Harvey on piano, Jeremy Brown on double bass and Josh Morrison on drums, all had a couple of substantial solos, Morrison’s combination of sound textures of pedal, stick and rim working especially well. Kent’s touring operation is evidently well honed, and she often listed the many skills and virtues of her band, and especially her husband and saxophonist/flautist/writer/arranger/producer, Jim Tomlinson. There’s one thing that Tomlinson can’t do, however, and that’s sing. She asked him to accompany her in Jobim’s “Waters of March”, a male-female duet. His largely tuneless stage-whisper was embarrassed by her lithe and idiomatic delivery.  

Stacey Kent’s act flirts with cliché. There are some horrors on disc, such as her recording of Louis Armstrong’s “What a Wonderful World”, where cliché overwhelms the song in a kittenish, syrupy avalanche. But live, she escapes (nearly) every time, when her unique vocal skill pulls a novelty rabbit from the hat of platitude. I can’t think of anyone performing today who extracts such feeling so quietly.

Kent is a musical miniaturist, who creates drama and tension with the tiniest, subtlest effects


Editor Rating: 
Average: 4 (1 vote)

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