Michael J. West for DOWNBEAT – 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. ★★★★★