Tonight, Stacey Kent and her four piece band delighted Ronnie Scott's with a selection of songs by Jobim, Valle and from the Great American song book. Outside it was a cold and grey Soho September night, but inside we were transported to the cool breeze of a Brazilian evening, and with just a little imagination we could have been in Rio, Sao Paulo or Bahia.
As well as celebrating the music of some of the greatest composers of all time, we celebrated the birthday of Jim Tomlinson, Stacey's husband, who demonstrated some less well known skills in addition to his magnificent saxophone and flute playing. But more of that later. The evening opened with two laid back songs - Marcos Valle's Double Rainbow and then another ballad, both of which served as a reminder of Stacey Kent's velvety, slightly understated but exquisite voice. Now, I enjoy improvisation as much as the next jazz fan, but hearing these great songs sung straight, supported by really tight band is very refreshing.
After the mid tempo start, things speeded up a little with a nice work through of Jobim's So Danco Samba and then, from the great American songbook, Alan Brandt and Bob Haymes' That's All, written in 1952 and still fresh. In the same vein, we also had Rogers and Hammerstein's Happy Talk from South Pacific, with Stacey accompanying herself on guitar. Over the last few years we have seen albums in French and Portuguese from Ms. Kent as well as a number of more contemporary songs - all great but she really really shines on the standards which is where most of us first discovered her. Great news then that in November she will be releasing Tenderly, a new album of jazz standards. Can't wait.
The remainder of the first set included a couple more Jobim songs - a very cute version of One Note Samba, again featuring our heroine on guitar and an absolutely cracking version of The Waters of March sung in Portuguese. The latter was presented as a duet between her and husband Jim, who she revealed was once the lead chorister at Hexham Abbey and who surprised us with his very OK Portuguese vocal as well as a great contribution on flute. A nice touch and evidence of the very real musical partnership between this couple, with him having produced all of her albums as well as playing on them.
The link with Valle is more than just admiration for a great songwriter on Kent's part. She explained that together with her husband, she had worked with the great Brazilian on a number of projects, performed with him in Brazil and of course, recorded an album together a couple of years ago to celebrate his 50 years in the music business. This is a woman who the all time greats want to work with. The legendary Brazilian guitarist, Roberto Menescal plays on the new album and Booker Prize winning author, Kazuo Ishiguro co-wrote two songs for her with Tomlinson - The Ice Hotel and Changing Lights both of which she performed tonight.
Tomlinson featured largely in the second set with a magnificent reading of Bacharach and David's Alfie, written (he confessed) in the year of his birth - 1966 - and a tribute to the recently deceased Cilla Black. This was purely an instrumental reading but he made that saxophone sing every one of those famous words. Together with One Note Samba and Waters of March this was truly the highlight of the evening for me. We returned to the Brazilian theme for the remainder of the second set - Valle's So Nice (a real classic with Bebel's version a favourite of mine) and another Jobim hit - Meditation, both given great readings. We were also treated to Valle's Cricket's Sing For Annemarie ( a lot of huggin' and a lot of kissin' and…) before one more Valle song - This Happy Madness for an encore.
Surely one of the world's best jazz vocalists, Ms. Kent was ably supported by a most accomplished quartet. Jim Tomlinson's contribution s already noted but Graham Harvey shone on piano (I'd like to hear more from him) whilst Jeremy Brown on bass and Josh Morrison on drums were also excellent. Great solo on Cricket's Sing for Annemarie by the way Josh and another great evening at Ronnie Scott's that was over all too soon. And one other good thing - it's the first gig I've been to in some time where I was able to enjoy the music without some nuisance talking throughout the performance. Perhaps there is hope after all.