Stacey Kent was adopted by the British public many years ago, having made the move from the East Coast of America to enrol on a graduate music program at the Guildhall School of Music where she also met her future husband and musical partner, saxophonist Jim Tomlinson
Over the years Kent has been able to put her distinctive attractive mezzo-soprano voice to service on a wide repertoire of tunes from what has come to be known as the Great American Songbook, although more recently she has looked further afield for inspiration, taking in French chanson and Brazilian music. Furthermore, Jim Tomlinson now also provides a growing number of original compositions as does prize-winning author Kazuo Ishiguro. Whatever the material, Kent’s vocal stylings communicate emotion without drama often through an almost minimalist approach.
Her last CD, “I Know I Dream: The Orchestral Sessions”, was released in 2017 and garnered glowing reviews. These days, however, Kent seems to perform in the UK relatively infrequently and so it is all the more welcome to have “Close Your Eyes”, Kent’s debut release from 1997 reissued as a double album on vinyl. Upon its original release, the album was the best-selling British jazz album of the year and her impressive discography now extends to twelve releases to date. A key ingredient in Kent’s success are the musicians that she chooses to accompany her. They are no mere backing musicians but are some of the finest musicians around who together do nothing but enhance her vocals. Several of her companions on this release have featured on subsequent releases. Along with Tomlinson on the saxophone are Colin Oxley guitar, David Newton piano, Andrew Cleyndert, bass and Steve Brown drums. With the exception of one piece, all of the musical arrangements are provided by Tomlinson. To quote from Humphrey Lyttleton who supplied the liner notes for the original release back in 1996, “What makes Stacey Kent so remarkable is her “sound”. Strong and clear, it has the tang of Vermouth.” Her delivery is full of joy and enthusiasm and this clearly shows in everything that she does.
All of the songs will be familiar to lovers of American popular songs of the 1930s and 1940s. Perhaps most outstanding of all is the bossa nova treatment of “Close Your Eyes”. But there are many other gems to enjoy such as “More Than You Know” and “There’s A Lull In My Life”. Many of the songs are further enhanced by solo contributions from Tomlinson’s Stan Getz inspired tenor saxophone and Oxley’s mellow guitar. Kent could not possibly have any better piano accompanist than David Newton, who has provided great support to a plethora of vocalists over the years. He always seems to know exactly what chord or instrumental fill would be most appropriate and never puts a foot wrong throughout the whole album.
Back in 1997, Kent is recorded as saying that “with this album, I was trying to give a mixture of things that people know and gems that got lost, songs that might get missed out of the great standard repertoire”. Of the eleven tracks here, it is impossible to pick one which stands out above all others as they are all mini masterpieces. Buy the album and listen for yourself to pick out your own particular favourites.