Stacey Kent At Birdland
There are some singers who excel at communicating story through song. The inner life of the singer is awake in their eyes, each tiny gesture, they are empowered with the ability to move an audience through communicating this intangible feeling. Their voices are also beautiful, but when it comes to technique, they tend to sacrifice perfect musicality for the emotion. Then there are your Audra's, your Barbra Streisands- those who sound beautiful, flawless tone, and yet... there's a studied quality, something a little removed.
I've always preferred the former to the latter. Give me an actress with a gorgeous voice who rely puts her heart on the line. It's that bravery, that emoting and sharing that really gets me. Bernadette Peters, Patti Lupone, Sara Vaughn...
Stacey Kent is a rare singer who does both. Her technique is flawless, and the interpretation as dictated by the notes and instructions in the sheet music, coupled with what the accompaniment is doing, really informs and feeds her performance. She's always there in the moment of the music, and alive in the story that the song is telling. Garland was much the same way, although she preserved her instrument less well, sacrificing her voice in order to give all she had. Save nothing, at times seemed to be her motto.
Kent is not a belter. She has a kittenish, caressing quality to her sound that resonates with another era, and this quality is perfectly illustrated in songs like Violets for My Furs, You're Looking At Me, and I've Got A Crush On You from her cd Dreamsville. She is playful, open, and lyrical. She is like a little Jazz Pixie, whole and healing through song. I've felt this even through her recordings, and until last night had never had the chance to see her live. Thank God for New York, because if your eyes and ears are open, your musical inspirations will be passing through at some point and you will get to take part in their brilliance. And I do think Stacey Kent is brilliant.
Last night as I watched her (from the front table at Birdland) I was just awash in her voice, in the skill of the musicians around her, and in their calm and confident presence. I could have sat and listened for hours. And it's strange, but after seeing her live... I'm not ready to go back to the recordings, as great as they are. I just want to keep hold of that moment a little longer when artist and audience were in the same room, fed off of each other, making a unique moment. Forgive the waxing rhapsodic, but it's wonderful when someone you know in a limited capacity exceeds your expectations when you experience the complete artist.
If you aren't familiar with Stacey, I have two CDs I recommend. First, there is Dreamsville, which I mentioned prior, second is the Grammy nominated Breakfast On The Morning Tram which strays from the standards a bit to focus on collaborations with Kent's producer and saxophonist and composer Jim Tomlinson, and novelist and lyricist Kazu Ishiguro. Each album is wonderful in its own right, and either or both are a perfect gateway to Kent's art.
Kent is playing at Birdland 8:30 and 11PM tonight (the 22nd) as well as Thursday and Friday, and there are still a few tickets available.