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Stacey Kent – The Changing Lights – Warner Bros./Pure Pleasure

Stacey Kent – The Changing Lights – Warner Bros./Pure Pleasure PPAN 17529 180-gram vinyl (2 LPs) ****1/2:

(Stacey Kent – vocals; Jim Tomlinson – saxes, flute; Graham Harvey – piano, keyboards; Roberto Menescal & John Parricelli, guitars; Jeremy Brown – doublebass; Matt Home & Joshua Morrison – drums)

For those of you unfamiliar with vocalist Stacey Kent, she’s an American who lives in England – for that matter, she’s married to an Englishman, her sax player Jim Tomlinson – they met while studying at the Guildhall School of Music in London. Stacey speaks fluent French, along with Portuguese, Italian and German, and this obviously informs her musical choices and helps her music transcend international boundaries. A few years ago, she recorded a live album in Rio de Janiero, and that experience brought her very close to Brazilian and bossa nova music, which is the subject of her current album, The Changing Lights.

Produced and arranged by Jim Tomlinson, The Changing Lights combines not only classic bossa songs such as “One Note Samba” and “How Insensitive”, but also explores more current Brazilian music from noted musicians Dori Caymmi, Marcos Valle and Roberto Menescal, who performs on several of the albums tracks. The album also includes several originals in the bossa nova style penned in collaboration by Jim Tomlinson and acclaimed novelist Kazuo Ishiguro – these songs include the lilting title track as well as “The Summer We Crossed Europe in the Rain” – definitely one of the albums’ many highlights.

In terms of sound quality, this two LP set is off-the-charts good, and really showcases all the attributes that still make analogue reproduction a no-brainer. I’m using a modified Rega P2 table that adds the glass platter option and a Michell Technoweight and stub, and my cartridge is an Ortofon 2M Blue. My phono preamp is the excellent Rolls Bellari VP130, and my current tube of choice is a Sovtek 12AX7LPS. While definitely a mid-range setup, the mods and tubes lift it to a level of performance that really brings well-recorded vinyl to life, and Stacey Kent’s latest album falls squarely into that category. Vocals have an in-the-room presence, and all the players are spread across a both broad and deep soundstage that allows the listener to easily identify individual instrument positions. This album is definitely demonstration quality.

Stacey Kent is a talented and superb storyteller and vocalist, and her artistry in combination with Jim Tomlinson’s magnificent arrangements and musicianship makes for a truly enjoyable listening experience. This record is easily her best from an already impressive 15-year career, and the accompaniment is stellar indeed. This is, without a doubt, a five-star performance, but I’m only giving it 4 and a half stars – strictly on technical merits. Side 3 of my LP was marred by a scratch that ran almost the full side of the vinyl – a truly aggravating quality-control issue that should be non-existent at the rarefied level that Pure Pleasure occupies. Other than that, the vinyl was really quiet, and the pressings were razor-flat. At this price point, I’d definitely contact my dealer for a replacement.

TrackList: 

Side A –
This Happy Madness
The Summer We Crossed Europe in the Rain
One Note Samba
Side B –
Mais Uma Vez
Waiter, Oh Waiter
O Barquinho
Side C –
The Changing Lights
How Insensitive
O Bebado E A Equilibrista/Smile
Side D –
Like A Lover
The Face I Love
A Tarde
Chanson Legere

– Tom Gibbs

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