JAZZ REVIEW: Stacey's silken soirée

"THEY continuously break my heart and put it back together again."

Popular jazz singer Stacey Kent was telling her Hove audience about her new songwriting team. It amounted to a warning.

Her saxophonist husband Jim Tomlinson and author Kazuo Ishiguro hardly needed an embryonic stage in their partnership '” they seemed born to it. But those two men had no doubt they were writing for a woman whose distinctively special artistry had already given her possession of an supreme ability to break and mend hearts.

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She probably does it every time she performs because, not only are her songs charged with romantic observation and feeling, but they come in a gossamer packaging. Her voice has a magnetic lightness of being.

And behind the translucently soft, silky, purring way in which she tells her so-often narrative songs, there is always a subtly understated tearing in the guts. Then comes a tune, a rhythm and a lyric that makes it all better again.

The emotion, the sensitivity and the colour of her material is conveyed so privately to her audience and The Old Market is a home of intimate music.

The classical chamber Coffee Concert series is the venue's flagship of just that '” where some seating is tiered but, also, the artistes play at ground floor level surrounded completely by seating.

Kent recalled her previous Hove visit when the stage positioning at the side of the hall enabled a semi-circular format. This evening, there was a stage, at one end, with all the seating on ground level and facing down the hall.

But that maybe frustrated a good many people seated further away down the hall. Maybe another arrangement is possible for next time, involving a ground-level semi-circle around the artistes and a tiered face-on section.

She's used to speaking to an audience, as she does on her BBC Radio shows, so to engage in conversation after arrival on stage was almost akin to the Anglicised American multi-linguist dropping in on you for the evening and having an initial chat about where she'd been and what she'd done. It set the ideal atmosphere.

Tomlinson, a gently, always beautiful tenor and soprano player (he did not bring his flute), directed their new band of pianist Graham Harvey, drummer Matt Skelton and deputy double-bassist Chris Hill. No guitar.

Tomlinson and Ishiguro (a novelist who wrote Remains Of The Day) have four songs on her latest album, Breakfast On The Morning Tram.

The title track, set in Amsterdam, started the second set like a new awakening, and the Tomlinson-Ishiguro numbers included So Romantic, the bitter-sweet I Wish I Could Go Travelling Again, and the award-winning The Ice Hotel.

Kent has toured this album already around 27 countries and was next-day off to France, where her impeccable accent doubtless hastens the conquest. She sang Jardin d'hiver and an item from the iconic film Un Homme et Une Femme. There was also Brazilian-influenced material.

And she stood by the piano, involved and as enraptured as her audience, while Tomlinson played the instrumentals Spring Can Really Hang You Up The Most, and Only Trust Your Heart.

Kent's inimitable deftness of touch was bestowed on just two of the familiar American standards, the original interpretations of which have made her name.

Zing Went My Heart Strings came midway through the first set, and What A Wonderful World was the encore. With her new release, Kent treads forward into an exciting newer world, yet to conclude the evening with Louis Armstrong's eternal classic was the perfect "So long, until next time".

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