For her first album on the French label Naïve, Stacey Kent decided to take care of some old business. Like many artists, Kent has a substantial collection of songs she has performed live but has not yet recorded. And so, with a program bookended with two of her favorite composers, Michel Legrand and Jacques Brel, “Summer Me, Winter Me” presents a fresh side of Kent’s repertoire for those who have not heard her in concert, and a familiar program for the fans who catch her show every time she hits town. The title track is set as a samba. Kent’s elastic phrasing over the rhythm de-emphasizes the sing-song manner of the melody while bringing out the clever rhymes of the lyric. Another Legrand opus “La Valse des Lilas” (also known as “Once Upon a Summertime”) opens with the lyric tenor sax of Kent’s husband and musical partner, Jim Tomlinson. Kent effortlessly takes the lead after a few bars, with her exquisite French vocal laid over the New York rhythm section of pianist Art Hirahara, bassist Tom Hubbard, and drummer Anthony Pinciotti. The album includes two recent collaborations by Tomlinson and lyricist Cliff Goldmacher, plus a revamped Tomlinson original with words by novelist Kazuo Ishiguro. Over the years, the Ishiguro songs have elevated Kent’s repertoire, with intricate storylines that gracefully unfold over several stanzas. Goldmacher’s texts are an effective contrast using concise phrases that establish the scenes quickly within the listener’s mind. The Goldmacher texts, “Thinking about the Rain” and “A Song That Isn’t Finished Yet”, bring out the warmth in Kent’s voice, while the waltz arrangement of Ishiguro’s “Postcard Lovers” elicits deep melancholy as Kent’s narration reveals frustration with her faraway paramour. The lovely accompaniment on the Ishiguro and two other tracks is by the London rhythm section of Graham Harvey (piano), Jeremy Brown (bass), and Joshua Morrison (drums). “Under Paris Skies” features an attractive swing feel with Kent gliding the words over the ground beat, and a great tenor solo by Tomlinson. A multi-faceted arrangement of Tom Jobim‘s “Corcovado” presents a wide range of colors all within the framework of the ballad style. Brel’s “Ne Me Quitte Pas” is presented in French and English versions, and in a happy surprise, there are different arrangements for each version. While I admire the way Kent underplays the drama in the English version, the French version is much more effective because of its slower tempo and no-frills approach. This album is another worthy addition to Stacey Kent’s impressive discography.


It’s been awhile since I’ve heard a new album by Vanessa Perea, but judging from the music on her latest release, “This is the Moment“, her talents have only deepened over the intervening years. Working with a superb rhythm section (Adam Birnbaum, piano; Neal Miner, bass; Aaron Kimmel, drums) and without any horns, Perea takes full control in an impressive recital of familiar and lesser-known standards. The title track is a stunner, with Perea swinging confidently in the first chorus over the sole accompaniment of Kimmel’s drums. When the piano and bass enter, Perea lets loose with an inspired melodic variation. We might expect this tune to continue for another three or four minutes, but Perea lets it end after two choruses, allowing it to serve as a kind of opening fanfare to what follows. The bop standard “Anthropology” (with Lorraine Feather‘s lyrics) gives us our first example of Perea’s scat technique. She moves across her full range with ease, develops ideas with great logic, and throws in a quote of “Squatty Roo” that is eerily reminiscent of Ella Fitzgerald. Perhaps her most substantial improvement is in her approach to ballads. On her sensitive rendition of Cy Coleman‘s “It Amazes Me”, she acts out the part of the fortunate lover who is stunned that her partner has found qualities in her that she didn’t recognize herself. On a Spanish-language medley of “Se Te Olivida” and “Sabor a Mi”, she communicates all of the emotions so clearly that a translation is unnecessary. Her phrasing on the bridge and coda of “Sabor” will break your heart with its sheer emotional power. The playlist includes a few more pleasant surprises, including the delicious “Something Happens to Me”; a rarity from the Glenn Miller band, “I’m Lost”; the charming “S’Posin'” and the nearly-forgotten gem “I’ll Be Tired of You”. Paired with evergreens like “Lover, Come Back to Me”, “I Could Write a Book” and “The Shadow of Your Smile”, Perea has created a superb album that should increase her visibility and recognition. All that needs to happen is for this album to be heard on the air, streaming, and discs.


From the opening sounds of “winds sweepin’ down the plains” to the haunting sounds of a Native American flute, Audrey Silver‘s new recording of songs from Rodgers and Hammerstein‘s “Oklahoma” sounds like a blueprint for a re-imagined version of the musical. Drawing from the darker themes of the musical’s book, and the treatment of Native Americans in the source play, “Green Grow the Lilacs“, Silver’s interpretation of the “Oklahoma” score is thoughtful and introspective, but still preserves the warmth and humor of the original. For example, Ado Annie’s comic song “I Cain’t Say No” is here, complete with all of the jokes and twisted logic from Hammerstein’s lyrics. Yet, Silver has injected humanity into this flimsy character, so that the listener has some sympathy for her all-too-human weaknesses. Silver’s vocal delivery on this album is as cozy as an insulated blanket, and the gorgeous arrangements by Bruce Barth only enhance the effect. Using his piano, Peter Bernstein‘s guitar, string quartet, and occasional appearances by Adam Kolker (reeds) and Kahlil Kwame Bell (percussion), Barth gets a full rich sound from this chamber ensemble (especially on the show’s elegant grand waltz, “Out of My Dreams”). And while “Surrey with the Fringe on Top” and “People Will Say We’re in Love” have been subjected to odd-time treatments in the past, the current versions—in 5/8 and 6/8 time respectively—sound as fresh and natural as an evening breeze. The turn-of-the-century catalog of technological marvels in “Kansas City” was already a cute joke when the musical premiered in 1943; the version here is great fun, with Barth and Bernstein digging back into swing style in a loose jam, while Silver maintains the narrator’s wide-eyed awe. The same trio is in place for the remainder of the album, and it is remarkable to hear the differences in accompaniment on “Boys and Girls Like You and Me” (flowing rubato) and the reprise of the title tune (relaxed, understated swing). Whether or not there will ever be a stage production of “Oklahoma” based on this recording, Silver and Barth’s re-interpretation is an inspiring production of a classic piece of Americana.


Most of Luciana Souza‘s recent recordings have been collaborations with other artists, and the concept seems to agree with her. Her latest, “Cometa“, marks her first recording with a Brazilian piano trio, namely Trio Corrente (Fabio Torres, piano; Paulo Paulelli, bass/vocal percussion; and Edu Ribeiro, drums). The trio is quite adventuresome, with Torres usually leading the trio’s path to expanding tonal structures. Souza thrives in such environments, adding her creative energy to the mix. This recording was made in Rio in January 2023, during the early days of Lula de Silva‘s presidency, and the optimism is tangible on uptempo pieces like Souza’s original “Bem Que Te Avisel” or Dorival Caymmi‘s “Requebre Que Eu Dou Um Doce”. However, some of the album’s greatest moments come when the group seems the most fragile. Souza’s passionate vocal on Tom Jobim’s “Eu Voce” carries nearly unbearable intensity. Ary Barroso‘s “Pra Machucar Meu Caração” has a brief moment where Souza’s voice cracks ever so slightly as if the pain of the lyric was too much to bear. The arrangement of “Pra Machucar” is striking with a limping two-note motive accompanying Souza’s opening melody. As the setting continues through solos and further melodic statements, the mood lightens ever so gradually until the extended vamp coda which becomes a seductive four-way improvisation. The title track comes at the end this time. Co-composed by Souza and Ribeiro, the track opens with just the two of them with Souza floating the initial melody over cymbals and toms. The effect dissipates into a tight bossa groove, but Souza maintains the mood with subtle rhythmic displacements away from the ground beat. A gorgeous piano solo leads to a deeply emotive closing chorus by Souza, where the precise definitions of the text are less important than the raw feelings. Souza and Trio Corrente will tour the US in the upcoming spring. Get your concert tickets soon, and revel in the wonders of this recording until the concert date.

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