When vocalist Stacey Kent and husband, musician/writer/arranger Jim Tomlinson, samba into Birdland, the faithful gather with sure knowledge of respite from the world outside. Pulses slow, audiences sway. Kent’s sighing, slightly nasal voice, back of the throat vibrato, and slip/slide octaves pair with Tomlinson’s soulful, as-if-muted alto saxophone and winged flute to deliver a dreamlike evening far from the madding crowd. Tonight joined by Tom Hubbard-bass, Josh Morris-drums, and the extraordinary Art Hirahara on piano, they don’t disappoint.
Tomlinson’s contemporary “Make It Up” (with Cliff Goldmacher) is mid-tempo, upbeat and utterly charming. …If we knew what we were doing/We’d be doing it all wrong/So let’s just make it up as we go along…Hirahara’s piano sounds dappled with sunlight. Kent is infectiously flirty. This and the composer’s quirky, vocally ethereal “Ice Hotel” (with Kazuro Ishiguro), with which I’m familiar, are two of tonight’s highlights. More original material would be appreciated.
Stacey Kent and Jim Tomlinson
Beautifully rendered, non-Brazilian standards include Ray Noble’s “The Very Thought of You,” sentimentally evoking a lantern-lit country club or USO dance from the 1940s and a palpably savored “That’s All” (Alan Brandt/ Bob Haymes) with pauses between verses that never feel empty. Circling brushes, stroked bass, and delicate piano support Tomlinson’s eloquent sax soliloquy on the second number. The musician effortlessly bends notes and emotions. Kent steps offstage to listen and admire.
“If I’m Lucky” (Josef Myrow/Eddie DeLange) is a tribute to Perry Como of whom Kent is “a huge fan.” If I’m lucky/This will be no light affair/It’s forever/From the start…The ballad floats in sloooow and easy. Kent’s eyes close, one hand holding the microphone stand. Bass shadows, sax is as mellow as it gets, every piano note is pristine whether tripling or barely touched. It’s a hope, a request, a vision, tinged by sad history.
Rodgers and Hammerstein are affectionately represented by “People Will Say We’re In Love” and “Happy Talk,” (Kent on guitar) both with Brazilian arrangements. The vocalist often comes in off the beat, waiting for and sensing currents on which she might hitch, and sometimes from above a note, giving lyrics organic lilt. “Happy Talk” is effervescent- a sky filled with kites at play, circling, darting, tails like airborne doodles.
Jim Tomlinson and Stacey Kent
Among Brazilian numbers, untranslated but for its title (Kent sings in perfect Portuguese and French), “Estrada de Sol” -Street of the Sun (Tom Jobim/Dolores Duran) is lush, grateful, playful. The lovers have made it through a “stormy” night. Marcos Valle’s “The Face I Love” …Just think of things Like a daffodils /And peaceful sheep/ On clover hills/ And morning sun/ On whippoorwills/ And you’ll see the face that I love…emerges in deep melodic, hammock-like scallops. Hubbard’s bass is rhythmic thrum, notes overlapping as if woven. Hirahara’s piano takes off with an untraceable flight plan.
I admit to having heard “So Nice” aka Summer Samba (Marcus Valle/Paulo Sergio Valle/Norman Gimbel), “One Note Samba” (Tom Jobim/Newton Mendonça), and Jobim’s “Aquas de Marco” aka Waters of March perhaps once too often and can only imagine how Kent and Tomlinson feel after hundreds of performances. Time to replace these?
An evocative, romantic evening reminding us something exists besides bad news.
Photos by Steve Friedman
Opening: Stacey Kent (Tom Hubbard-bass)
Birdland Jazz Club
315 West 44th Street
Through July 9, 2016