Stacey Kent ‘I Know I Dream : The Orchestral Sessions’ (Sony) 4/5

American raised, but now British resident and based, singer Stacey Kent returns with an extremely well-rounded album that builds on her natural penchant for the Brazilian and American songbook, but adds with two covers of the French chanson tradition and some interesting new compositions from her trusted team of Cliff Goldmacher, and Kazuo Ishiguro, while multi-reedist, arranger, producer and husband, Jim Tomlinson, takes care of the musical side. The use of strings is never overly saccharine, and Kent’s voice is ideally suited to this varied repertoire. A double helping of Jobim originals in English opens the album, and ‘Double rainbow’ is a wonderful number, complete with a memorable piano riff, flute and strings intro, with the drum pattern quickly developing into a waltz. One of the album highlights for sure. Following in close and hot pursuit, ‘Photograph’, features some Western classical influenced guitar in the intro, and the strings lend something of a 1960’s feel. Over recent albums, Stacey Kent has increasingly lent her voice to music from across the Channel and, in this case, it is the compositions of Serge Gainsbourg and Léo Ferré that are showcased. For the former, a jazz-inflected ballad, ‘Les amours perdus’, while not quite on a par with the hypnotic original, provides an intimate reading here with bass and drum roll, while the strings remain somewhat subdued. More convincing, is the cover of ‘Avec le temps’, which is aided greatly by the dream-like Romantic piano accompaniment. Of the new material, an uptempo piece, ‘Make it up’, is noticeable for some lovely rim drum percussion and this is a joyous number that Kent delivers with some lovely Brazilian-esque flute to accompany her on the musical journey. The piano bossa riff is prominent on ‘The changing lights’ (one of two songs co-composed by Kazuo Ishiguro and Jim Tomlinson, the other being ‘Bullet Train’), which name checks both New York and Rio in the process and ends the album on an uplifting note. For the classic ballad, ‘That’s all’, the strings contribute some necessary lushness to proceedings, with piano, guitar and saxophone to convey an intimate vocal delivery. All round, a finely crafted release from a singer in the prime of her career.

Tim Stenhouse