MusicNorth East & YorkshireReview

Stacey Kent – East Riding Theatre, Beverley

Musicians: Stacey Kent Quintet

Reviewer: Ron Simpson

Regulars at jazz clubs in the 1990s will remember Stacey Kent as being so much in love with the Great American Songbook that she brought a case bursting with charts for her backing musicians because she couldn’t decide in advance between her favourite songs. This zest for performing wonderful songs was underpinned by her marriage to the splendid jazz saxophonist Jim Tomlinson – which ensured fine accompaniments – and a series of delightful albums on Candid seemed to barely scratch the surface of the accumulation of classic songs in her repertoire.

Now Stacey Kent is a rather different performer, more sophisticated and wide-ranging certainly, but, on the evidence of this Beverley concert, out of love with the Great American Songbook – and with that goes some of the joie de vivre and wry humanity that are par for the course with the likes of Cole Porter and the Gershwins. The GAS emerged only as an encore, when Stacey sang a beautifully delicate Stardust, including the magical verse that once sparked a row between Frank Sinatra and composer Hoagy Carmichael – Sinatra so loved the verse that he recorded it on its own and Hoagy, notoriously touchy, wanted to know what Sinatra had against the chorus. They’re both beautiful and Stacey’s placing of her version was a perfect finale.

The East Riding Theatre has a remarkable relationship with Stacey Kent and she found a space in a genuinely crowded international schedule to return to the 180-seater in Beverley – packed, of course! Her programme reflected a career that has expanded in many different directions from her original jazz versions of standards: award-winning novelist Kazuo Ishiguro’s lyrics set by Jim Tomlinson, French chansons, collaboration with the bossa nova pioneer, Roberto Menescal. All were there, though Stacey’s sparse introductions sometimes made identification of songs difficult.

Her most recent album featured a 52-piece orchestra, but on tour one thing has not changed: she is accompanied by Jim Tomlinson, offering immaculate flute and soprano sax alongside his signature tenor sax, and an alert and adept jazz trio. At Beverley, all got their share of solo space, with Jim contributing a poised and lyrical Alfie as his feature.

Stacey’s command of the French idiom showed first in a chirpy Under Paris Skies, but most powerfully in her moving treatment of Jacques Brel’s Ne Me Quitte Pas (If You Go Away). Her taste for delicately phrased ballads also gave us a fine I Have a Feeling I’ve Been Here Before, with Jim Tomlinson’s tenor sax solo in the best Lester Young tradition. The frequent Latin pieces, usually unidentified, ranged from languid bossa novas to the jolliest of hand-clapping, wordless-vocalising fun.

The Beverley audience, in general, loved Stacey Kent, the man in Row J was “mesmerised”, so it’s probably churlish to wish for a bit more excitement and a tune to whistle on the way to the carpark.

Touring nationwide | Image: Contributed

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The Yorkshire & North East team is under the editorship of Mark Clegg. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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