REVIEW: Stacey Kent at the Royal Spa Centre, Leamington Spa

Stacey Kent - from artist Facebook page

Stacey Kent
(Royal Spa Centre, Leamington Spa. 8 April 2015. Review by Nicolas Pillai)

The sun was setting outside, but within the auditorium of the Spa Centre, a drape decorated with twinkling stars provided the backdrop for Stacey Kent and her band, Jim Tomlinson (tenor saxophone, flute, guitar), Graham Harvey (piano), Jeremy Brown (bass) and Josh Morrison (drums). Over two sets, these musicians essayed sixteen songs and an encore, largely divided between Tomlinson’s original collaborations with Kazuo Ishiguro and the Brazilian love songs that Kent so obviously adores. It was a generous performance, nostalgic without seeming hackneyed, in which the overall tone of the evening was set by Kent’s description of the qualities she admires in a lyric: “longing but also hope.”

Songs were drawn from Kent’s newest album with this ensemble, The Changing Lights, from her 2007 Blue Note release “Breakfast on the Morning Tram” and from her collaboration with Marcos Valle, “Ao Vivo”. There was also a healthy portion of Antonio Carlos Jobim in the repertoire: the haunting Photograph, One Note Samba, This Happy Madness, a vocal duet between Kent and Tomlinson on Águas de Março and, as an encore, So Danco Samba. As ever with Kent, these bright moments lent colour and richness to the melancholy that underpins her voice. She clearly enjoyed inhabiting zestier lyrics, as in the Tomlinson-Ishiguro Waiter, Oh Waiter and Lerner and Loewe’s Show Me from “My Fair Lady”. Once accused of being a static performer, last night Kent was voluble and animated - constantly moving, resplendent in patent wedges.

Similarly active was Tomlinson, whose various roles demonstrated his multi-instrumentalism and his bilingual skills (affectionately mocked for his virtuosity by his wife). Providing tight, unshowy support, Harvey, Brown and Morrison were for the most part at the service of their singer, but each had moments in the spotlight. Morrison - who had provided a percussive pulse throughout - saved his best moment for the encore, with a restrained yet swinging solo on So Danco Samba.

I have seen Kent speak at greater length between songs in the past. Here, she concentrated especially on her recent collaborators. It is evident that encounters with Ishiguro and Valle have expanded her expressive range and her choice of material, and I hope that we will get to see her perform with Valle in this country soon.

In the interval and after the gig, Kent and Tomlinson signed CDs in the foyer, chatting with audience members like old friends. Perhaps it is this open quality which charms her listeners so much, a wry shrug and a step forward into unknown territory anchored by that masterful control of the microphone. In that voice there is longing and there is hope, for darkness had fallen as the audience left the gig, but I am still basking in its warmth the next day.

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