Stacey Kent, a New York native now resident in London, opens the cabaret season at the cozy Oak Room. Kent has a sweet, small voice, not unlike that of the late Lee Wiley. There is a comforting purity in her sound and her singing benefits from an uncontrived approach. Her rhythmic phrasing boasts a warming lilt, and she swings with an unhurried and confident air.
Celebrating the Rodgers centennial, Kent plucked some standards from her latest Candid CD, “In Love Again.” Framing “People Will Say We’re in Love” with a gentle bossa beat, she sweetly defined the playful mood of a courtship. Skirting the usual jaunty tempo for “Thou Swell,” Kent invested the evergreen with a seductively sultry approach.
A smooth diversion was “Almost In Your Arms,” a lilting oldie from the 1958 Cary Grant-Sophia Loren starrer “Houseboat.” The song was tastefully heightened by a tenor sax solo from Kent’s hubby, Jim Tomlinson. He plays with the smooth melodic form and structure one associates with tenor man Harry Allen or the late Zoot Sims.
The singer’s most arresting turn, “Polka Dots and Moonbeams” — served as an encore — reflected her commitment to melody and mood. Was she, perhaps, recalling a bygone, “country dance in the garden”? With the sole accompaniment of Jim Oxley’s persuasive guitar, Kent crooned a sublimely torch-singed “Guess I’ll Have to Change My Plan.”
Touring recently in the Midwest, Kent experienced the down-home joys of her first state fair, where refreshments from corn and chicken, to macaroni and cheese, were served on a stick. She also confessed to a gushing romantic encounter with a cow, with big brown eyes. The revelation prompted another bossa nova setting for the wistfully rural Rodgers &Hammerstein reflection “It Might as Well Be Spring,” from the film “State Fair.” This tune, too, was beautifully accented by another flavorful Tomlinson solo.
Kent’s tightly knit quartet was a decided asset, complemented by Matthew Fries’ tastefully understated piano lines.