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Stacey Kent: The Changing Lights

Bruce Lindsay By

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Stacey Kent is a jazz success story—not just in terms of her talent, but also in terms of her international popularity, with her previous three albums clocking up a total of over 500,000 sales. What makes her so successful? The Changing Lights, her tenth album, demonstrates all of the qualities.

There's the material, a mix of originals and standards: the arrangements, all but one by Jim Tomlinson, which act to highlight Kent's vocal qualities: the musicians, a veritable who's who of the best in UK jazz. Above all, there's her voice—light but expressive, engaging and evocative, whether she's singing in English, French or Portuguese.

Kent has a history of working with excellent musicians and The Changing Lights continues this fine tradition. Tomlinson is superb throughout—his tenor saxophone sound is one of the warmest and most expressive in jazz, as evidenced by his solo on "O Barquinho," which also features the gentle guitar of its co-writer Roberto Menescal. Bassist Jeremy Brown and pianist Graham Harvey form a swinging rhythm section, partnered by Matt Home or Joshua Morrison on drums, while John Parricelli's electric guitar enriches the sound whether he's playing rhythm or lead.

The standards on The Changing Lights include Charlie Chaplin's "Smile," Tom Jobim, Vinicius De Moraes and Gene Lees' "This Happy Madness" and Jobim and Newton Mendonca's "One Note Samba," which features Tomlinson on flute. Kent and Tomlinson treat each one with respect, crafting versions that are easily recognisable. Yet Kent still manages to take hold of the lyrics and persuade us that the words and their attendant emotions tell of her own experiences. Kent and the musicians approach Jobim, De Moraes and Norman Gimbel's "How Insensitive" with terrific control and restraint, yet they create an atmosphere that's charged with the singer's regret at the end of an affair. No fripperies, not a single musical or lyrical extravagance, just a performance of sheer beauty.

Tomlinson co-wrote six of the songs on The Changing Lights. Three songs continue the relationship with novelist and lyricist Kashuo Ishiguro that began on Breakfast On The Morning Tram (Blue Note, 2007). Two of them create narratives around the idea of travel with a loved one—around a continent on "The Summer We Crossed Europe In The Rain," across a city on "The Changing Lights."

The third of Ishiguro's contributions, "Waiter, Oh Waiter," showcases Kent's talent for stories of the lighter side of life as she pleads with the titular employee to help her come to terms with the nightmare scenario of a menu she doesn't understand. It doesn't quite grab at the heartstrings like "How Sensitive" or "This Happy Madness" but the gently humorous tale adds another dimension to the experiences Kent brings to life on The Changing Lights.

Track Listing: This Happy Madness; The Summer We Crossed Europe In The Rain; One Note Samba; Mais Uma Vez; Waiter, Oh Waiter; O Barquinho; The Changing Lights; How Insensitive; O Bêbado E A Equilibrista / Smile; Like A Lover; The Face I Love; A Tarde; Chanson Légère.

Personnel: Stacey Kent: vocals, guitar (8); Jim Tomlinson: tenor saxophone, soprano saxophone, flute; Graham Harvey: piano, Fender Rhodes; Jeremy Brown: double bass; Roberto Mensecal: guitar (6, 12); John Parricelli: guitar (2-5, 10, 13); Matt Home: drums (1, 7, 8, 11); Joshua Morrison: drums (2-5, 10, 13); Raymundo Bittencourt: ganza (6).

Title: The Changing Lights | Year Released: 2013 | Record Label: Warner Jazz

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