British-American singer Stacey Kent's new album, "Breakfast On The Morning Tram," shows the youthful jazz chanteuse with the sweet, yet strong voice, to be enjoying unprecedented growth in her career. She's put together a bigger band, with a number of talented musicians, and she's allowed them lots of room to stretch on this disk. She has also, for the first time, recorded original compositions: this album has only three songs from the Great American Songbook, on which she had so successfully relied until now. She has also moved on from her first recording label, the small independent Candid, to the prestigious jazzy Blue Note.
Kent, who was born in South Orange, New Jersey, met her talented husband, saxophonist, now producer/arranger/composer, Jim Tomlinson, with whom she works, while both were students at London's 125 year old Guildhall School of Music and Drama. The singer, whose clear voice and delivery lie somewhere between the flirtatious sound of Norah Jones, and the ever-popular smoky barroom sound now delivered by Diana Krall and Claire Martin, among others, was initially championed by British critic and jazz trumpeter Humphrey Lyttelton. She credits Joni Mitchell, Nick Drake, Nancy Wilson, and Cannonball Adderley as the biggest influences on her work. She has won the 2001 British Jazz Award, and the 2002 British Broadcasting Corporation Jazz Award for Best Vocalist. She has a large, devoted following that should be pleased by her newest release.
"Breakfast" gives more than a nod to France, where Kent did post-graduate work, and is exceedingly popular: she was, in fact, signed by the Paris office of Blue Note. The French gave the 2006 "Boy Next Door" Gold Album status within six months of its release. They've greeted "Breakfast" by giving it, within six weeks of its release, Top #20 status on the general charts, and Top #10 status on the jazz charts; they've also given it an enthusiastic sell-out audience at Paris's legendary Olympia Music Hall. The new album includes two songs Kent identifies as her personal favorites from the works of the French singer-songwriter Serge Gainsbourg, "Ces Petits Riens," and "La Saison des Pluies." It also includes a cover of that rhythmic tune from "Un Homme et Une Femme," (that'll be "A Man and A Woman," to us), "Samba Saravah," by Pierre Barouh.
"So Many Stars" is another lilting samba on this Latin-tinged record, music by the Brazilian Sergio Mendes, words by the American powerhouse duo Marilyn and Alan Bergman. In addition, Kent covers "Landslide," by Stevie Nicks of Fleetwood Mac, in tribute to the Colorado Rockies, where she and Tomlinson enjoy spending their down time. "Never Let Me Go," "Hard Hearted Hannah," and "Wonderful World" are from the Great American Songbook that's served the singer so well.
Finally, "Breakfast" boasts four unusual, outstanding new compositions, all with lyrics by British Booker Prize winning novelist Kazuo Ishiguro, who wrote the liner notes for the 2003 release "In Love Again," and music by Tomlinson, with whose saxophone Kent sings in delicious close harmony. These songs, the Latin-grooving "Ice Hotel," the title song, "I Wish I Could Go Travelling Again," and "So Romantic," allow Kent's whispering voice to suggest, as Ishiguro has noted, almost a private, inner conversation, with its hesitations and asides, that remains close to the rhythms, inflections, and informalities of everyday speech. But then, so many of her listeners feel that Kent is singing for them alone, telling a wistful story, as she likes to do. Famous jazz lover Clint Eastwood asked her to perform at his 70th birthday party. Most of us can't quite afford that, unfortunately, but I've been lucky enough to catch her a few times in her month-long stands at New York's esteemed Algonquin Hotel: and, yes, she's also played Carnegie Hall. You want to catch her if you can.