Stacey Kent’s mezzo-soprano voice is a beautiful instrument for offsetting orchestral accompaniment, a fact that I KNOW I DREAM illustrates well. The orchestra, a 52-piece London studio assemblage, has a lushness that would smother Nelson Riddle - yet Kent cuts through it effortlessly.
In fairness, the arrangements hardly compete with Kent. But the singer has a relatively soft, restrained voice that on a less-skilled performer might easily be overpowered. Kent is incisive even at a near-whisper, as on the tender arrangement of Jobim’s “Photograph.”
Her voice becomes a featured instrument against saxophonist Jim Tomlinson’s vivacious samba “Make It Up.” Indeed the effect in a song with a segmented lyric line, like the French-language “Avec le Temps,” is very much like a concerto, with rich strings blooming in the spaces Kent leaves.
Along with the Jobim and other standards are several originals, composed by Tomlinson and several lyricists. One of the two best songs, the latter role is author Kazuo Ishiguro’s - Kent’s longtime collaborator and a Nobel laureate. “Bullet Train” puts Kent in a dream, with familiar faces around her.
The closing “The Changing Lights” is I KNOW I DREAM’s crown jewel, a bittersweet memory that could be a companion piece to Joni Mitchell’s “The Last Time I Saw Richard.” It’s the capstone of a nearly perfect vocal jazz album.
- Michael J. West
Stacey Kent has practically done it all over the past twenty years, selling north of two million albums, putting her gorgeously delicate stamp on standards, introducing fresh tunes into the canon, racking up awards, and bringing her flawless voice to fans in more than fifty countries. But one thing she hadn't done prior to this point is record an album with an orchestra. Cross that one off the list now and bathe your ears in this spellbinding music.
With I Know I Dream, Kent's voice receives a warm embrace from a sizeable orchestra containing nearly sixty musicians. But rather than force her to play up to sweeping peaks or grandiose ideals, the strings and winds manage to magnify the warmth and confidential tone endemic to Kent's work. Somehow, this influx of sounds leads to an even further dimming of the lights and sharpening of the emotional intent. It's intoxicating understatement at its finest.
Kent's sensitivity, grace, and multilingual savoir faire all contribute to this pleasure cruise. She serves as an expert tour guide through songs of love, moments of nostalgic reflection, and expressions of joy. Her voice can act as a ray of sunshine or a consoling hand, but above all, it serves as a mirror for the heart.
Pieces like "Bullet Train," powered by a contemporary polish and groove, and "Make It Up," with a perky Brazilian flavor, both serve as aural pick-me-ups; forays into French—sly-turned-direct during Serge Gainsbourg's "Les Amours Perdues," emotionally gripping on Léo Ferré's "Avec Le Temps"—leave singular memories hanging in the mist; and scaled back settings like "I Know I Dream," where voice and piano commune with the moment before a stunningly gauzy orchestral draping is drawn around Kent, leave you breathless. Few singers can work their way into a lyric like this.
These arrangements—most by Tommy Laurence, a few involving Jim Tomlinson's hand with or without a partner—fit Kent like a glove, playing to her quiet strengths. The material is first-rate, with Jobim gems and French tearjerkers sharing space with appealing songs Tomlinson co-wrote with (either) Cliff Goldmacher, Kazuo Ishiguro, or Antonio Ladeira. And the musicians, of course, deserve high marks in working to the parameters of the Stacey Kent aesthetic. While this is but one more jewel in a discography with many, it's one that deserves singling out for it's luster.