Ever since she made her debut recording Close Your Eyes in 1996, Stacey Kent has been one of the most delightful singers in jazz. She has a very attractive voice, perfectly places her notes, has impeccable articulation, and swings at every tempo. Her improvising is subtle (mostly in the phrasing) and one could imagine the major composers of the Great American Songbook being quite happy with her interpretations of their songs. She pays great respect to their melodies and lyrics while gently and joyfully uplifting the material. It is really impossible not to enjoy her singing.
Let Yourself Go: Celebrating Fred Astaire, the third of her six albums for the Candid label from 1996-2003 (if one does not count her return to the label in 2021), was recently reissued. Fred Astaire, like Stacey Kent, was a songwriter’s dream for he performed tunes as they were written while swinging them and adding his charm to the music. Astaire introduced more standards in the 1930s than just about anyone other than Bing Crosby.
On her Astaire tribute from 1999, Stacey Kent is joined by her husband tenor-saxophonist Jim Tomlinson (who sometimes sounds close to Scott Hamilton with touches of Zoot Sims), pianist David Newton, guitarist Colin Oxley, bassist Simon Thorpe, and drummer Steve Brown. The singer performs 11 songs by the likes of the Gershwins, Irving Berlin, Jerome Kern, Harold Arlen, and Howard Dietz. None of the songs are obscure but they all sound fresh in these versions. In addition to the pleasing vocals, there are plenty of concise solos by Tomlinson, Newton and Oxley.
Perhaps the biggest surprises are the uptempo versions of “Shall We Dance” and “A Fine Romance” but otherwise the songs are taken at relaxed paces. Kent sings “I Guess I’ll Have To Change My Plan” as a duet with guitarist Oxley and “By Myself” with pianist Newton. Other highlights include getting to hear the lesser-known verses of “They Can’t Take That Away From Me” and the wonderful versions of “Isn’t This A Lovely Day,” “He Loves And She Loves,” and “’S Wonderful.”
Stacey Kent • Let Yourself Go: Celebrating Fred Astaire