June 13, 2024


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Passionate wordsmith Stacey Kent with Jim Tomlinson and Art Hirahara at famous Tbilisi Jazz Festival 2024: Videos, Photos

The 27th year Tbilisi Jazz Festival is the most significant and the most luxurious in the Caucasus. This year it was held on May 22 – 24, 2024, in the center of Tbilisi, on the stage of the Rustaveli Academic Theater, in a historical and beautiful hall.

In general, as every year, the Tbilisi Jazz Festival emphasizes and stands out with the fireworks of jazz legends. This year was no exception. Bill Frisell – Thomas Morgan, Rudy Royston Trio, Joey Calderazzo – John Patitucci – Dave Weckle Trio and Stacey Kent – Jim Tomlinson – Art Hirahara Trio.

First of all, I have to admit that for years I have been a jazz scholar, a coordinator of jazz scholars from Eastern European countries and a member of the World Union of Jazz Scholars, but I was not familiar with this singer and the performer of this group. I met them for the first time in Tbilisi, for which I am grateful to the organizers of the Tbilisi Jazz Festival.

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Stacey Kent’s multi-lingual abilities allow her to listen in various languages. Her appeal is global and it is her vocal ability which has taken her to these heights. Her voice is light but commands attention with her ability to engage and communicate the narratives of love and regret, often in a simple and minimalist manner.

She written two original songs by Cliff Goldmacher and Kent’s husband, Jim Tomlinson. Tomlinson also arranged all the tracks as well as playing tenor saxophone, flutes, clarinet, percussion and keyboards. The rest of the tracks are jazz standards with the exception of one track which has lyrics by Nobel Prize-winning author, Kazuo Ishiguro.

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There are as many styles of jazz singers as there are styles of jazz, and some are particularly important in this small world, as is the case with Stacey Kent, but rather standards that this lover of letters, this passionate wordsmith, has chosen in both English and French. She even chooses French or English to add a literary intention or a delicate swing, as seen in Under Paris Skies, an old French song where she uses her native language to give it a jazz flavor.

Stacey sings that she’s “anxious to board a plane”, lyrics by her longtime songwriting partner Kazuo Ishiguro. There is a lot of melancholy and wanderlust in the concert, like on the Antonio Carlos Jobim classic Bonita. We also get a piece by Canadian author and composer, performer and actor Raymond Lévesque, who learned his trade in Paris in the 50s. His Les Voyages, also recorded by icon Barbara, has Art playing melodica too. It really makes you want to travel to Paris and indulge in its scents and colors.

Of the original songs, the present stand-out is Thinking About the Rain. Kent’s phrasing and vocal clarity all suit the narrative perfectly. There is consummate support from Tomlinson’s flute with neat prompting. Another high point comes with the bittersweet ballad Postcard Lovers which has lyrics by Ishiguro. Tomlinson effectively revises his original music to enhance the song.

Surprisingly, there are two versions of the same song by Jacques Brel, but with different arrangements and in different languages. The original French version of “Ne me quitte pas” is stark and sad, the English version, If You Go Away, a little lighter with the string quartet in the background. Stacey Kent’s performance of this song just touched me practically, it sent shivers through my body, it was unique.

There is no unnecessary adornment to these songs yet they create the perfect ambience for Kent to deliver her delicate interpretations. Her voice has effortless swing and finds warmth and compassion in every track. The musicians show restraint and perform to highlight Kent’s vocal. Kent learned her trade singing in London’s jazz clubs and there’s still a warmth and intimacy about her vocal delivery that helps endear has an effervescent arrangement that features Tomlinson on flute and includes a sparkling piano solo from Hirahara.

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Saxophonist Jim Tomlinson originally skillfully crafted collection of standards, given graceful and stylish life by the husband and wife partnership of Tomlinson and singer Stacey Kent. The rhythm section players might not be as emphatic a presence as Tomlinson and Kent, but its delicately understated performances provide crucial support to the sax and voice. Tomlinson also acts as Kent’s musical director and arranger in addition to writing original songs for his wife to perform. Their creative partnership has flourished on a series of fifteen albums issued under Kent’s name.

I’ll conclude with these words, thanking Stacey Kent for this magnificent concert at Tbilisi Jazz Festival 2024. For once, here’s an artist whom I didn’t know before but whose work I’ve admired for a long time. To interpret songs with such vocal quality, one must be able to deliver what is deep within oneself, which is also very courageous.

By Simon Sargsyan

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