By Bruce Lindsay
While vocalist Stacey Kent has a keen ear for songs, a distinctive and engaging voice and a talent for interpretation, she is also critically acclaimed and commercially successful. Strikingly, like many American jazz musicians from Sidney Bechet onwards, she has gained particular fame and acceptance in France, her albums entering the pop charts and where, in 2009, she was awarded the title of Chevalier des Arts et Lettres. Kent is clearly a Francophile in return, and Raconte-moi finds her singing exclusively in French on this collection of new and more established songs.
This is a stylish, sophisticated, collection, and Kent's interpretations are intimate; she has an uncanny ability to inhabit a song, as if she has experienced the story herself. The song choices are intriguing, although Kent plays it a little safer than she did on the Grammy-nominated Breakfast On The Morning Tram (Blue Note, 2007)—sadly there is nothing on this album from the majestic Serge Gainsbourg. Three of its most beautiful songs come, however, from young French writers. The songwriting team of Bernie Beaupere, Emilie Satt and Jean-Karl Lucas contribute two lovely tunes—"Raconte-moi" and "La Vénus du Mélo"—while Camille D'Avril contributes lyrics to "Sait-on Jamais?," with music from Jim Tomlinson.
Kent's band, led by husband, arranger and producer Tomlinson, is one of the finest jazz combos around. The intimacy of Kent's vocals demands control from musicians as much as it demands elegance and precision—there are few solos to be found here—and these players have the skill and confidence to deliver exactly what is needed. Tomlinson has a gorgeous, warm, tone on reeds, reminiscent of saxophone greats like Coleman Hawkins and Ben Webster. Drummer Matt Skelton is constantly inventive—his brush work in particular is absolutely spot-on—while pianist Graham Harvey and bassist Jeremy Brown weave hypnotic rhythms under Kent's voice. Guitarist John Parricelli is most effective on acoustic guitar, his warm and languid guitar lines key to the emotional impact of "Raconte-moi," while his slide guitar and Skelton's drums create "La Vénus du Mélo"'s uplifting, country-style backing.
Beautifully recorded by Curtis Schwartz at his studio in the south of England, Raconte-moi's superb clarity of sound is nothing less than what this delightful and affecting collection of songs deserves. Raconte-moi is a wonderfully crafted work that enhances the reputation of everyone involved in its production, but most especially Kent and Tomlinson.
Track listing: Les Eaux de Mars; Jardin d'Hiver; Raconte-moi...; L'étang; La Vénus de Mélo; Au Coin du Monde; C'est le Printemps; Sait-on Jamais?; Les Vacances au Bord de la Mer; Mi Amor; Le Mal de Vivre; Désuets.
Personnel: Stacey Kent: vocals, whistling; Jim Tomlinson: soprano sax, tenor sax, baritone sax, clarinet, sansula; Graham Harvey: piano, Fender Rhodes; John Parricelli: guitar; Jeremy Brown: double-bass; Matt Skelton: drums, percussion.
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