Stacey Kent – Breakfast On The Morning Tram – EMI-Blue Note Records (2007)/Pure Pleasure Records (2012) double 180-gram audiophile vinyl PPAN BST50161, 51:29, ****:
(Stacey Kent – vocals; Jim Tomlinson – tenor/alto saxophones; flute; John Paricelli – guitars; Graham Harvey – piano, Fender Rhodes; Dave Chamberlain – double bass; Matt Skelton – drums, percussion)
New Jersey native Stacey Kent moved to England to study music at London’s Guildhall School Of Music And Drama. There she met her future husband and collaborator, Jim Tomlinson. She began to make an impression as an aspiring jazz vocalist on the London club scene (most notably at Ronnie Scott’s nightclub). After signing with Blue Note Records in 1996, she established a reputation as a versatile, talented interpreter of songs in English and French. Her seminal Blue Note release, Breakfast On The Morning Tram (2007) garnered critical acclaim, including a Grammy nomination for Best Vocal Jazz Album. Featured on the album were lyrics from prize-winning novelist Kazuo Ishiguro (Remains Of The Day). This would develop into additional projects with Ishigura and Tomlinson.
A re-mastered double vinyl version of Breakfast On The Morning Tram is now available. [One of several of hers that Pure Pleasure has remastered…Ed.] Under the musical direction of Tomlinson, the gossamer voice of this singer is featured in a variety of organic settings. Ishiguro has written lyrics to three Tomlimson compositions. The opening track, “The Ice Hotel” is a droll travelogue that combines a gentle, Latin-tinged cadence and Kent’s soft, warm vocals. The trio of “vacation” ruminations includes the title song that features the ensemble in bossa nova mode with acoustic guitar (John Parricelli and flute (Tomlinson). Kent voice has the subdued tenderness of Astrud Gilberto, but her technique is more skilled. There is a nimble segue into a finger-snapping Route 66/bluesy riff. Instrumental nuances complement the winsome stylized vocals.
Without the perfunctory adaptation of the Great American songbook, the selection of material is more prominent. A cover of Stevie Nick’s “Landslide” is arranged in a folk/pop structure. Kent’s hushed reading does not try to imitate the original. Her clear diction and dulcet tone is exemplary. Taking on “What A Wonderful World”, she injects her own graceful lyricism and transforms the piece. Even a show-stopper like “Hard-Hearted Hannah” is restrained, but playful. The addition of tenor saxophone adds the right touch of sauciness.
Kent’s versatility can be felt in three French songs. “Ces Petits Riens” has a jazzy mid-sixties ambiance, featuring great bass work by Dave Chamberlain. The ability to execute nimble phrasing is not mitigated by language barriers. Another highlight is “Samba Saravah” (from the 1966 film, A Man And A Woman). The sweeping cinematic themes are in counterpoint to Kent’s delicacy. With a lilting elegance, “La Saison Des Pluies” demonstrates that a restrained performance can summon intense emotion.
This vinyl re-mastering of Breakfast On The Morning Tram is a perfect vehicle for Kent and her silky voice. Despite the higher pitch, there is great richness and texture. The guitars (both acoustic and electric) have a fuller resonance and complexity. As usual, the glossy packaging and gatefold cover are first-rate.
Side A: The Ice Hotel; Landslide; Ces Petits Riems
Side B: I Wish I Could Go Traveling Again; So Many Stars; Samba Saravah
Side C: Breakfast On The Morning Tram; Never Let Me Go; So Romantic
Side D: Hard-Hearted Hannah; La Saison Des Pluies; What A Wonderful World
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