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Kristen Lee Sergeant “INSIDE OUT”: Editors’ Pick on Downbeat Magazine
BY BOBBY REED
Kristen Lee Sergeant, Inside Out(Whaling City Sound)
On her 1993 album Blue Light ’Til Dawn, singer Cassandra Wilson expanded fans’ perception of what a jazz standard could be, thanks to her adventurous interpretations of 1970s compositions by Joni Mitchell, Van Morrison and Ann Peebles. On Wilson’s follow-up album,New Moon Daughter, she pushed the envelope further with a version of the Boyce & Hart composition “Last Train To Clarksville,” a 1966 hit for The Monkees. On her debut album, Kristen Lee Sergeant takes a similar tack. The actress/singer, whose vocals can be buttery or deliciously tart, offers impressive renditions of songs from musical theater—including “Old Devil Moon” (1947) and the Rodgers & Hart compositions “I Wish I Were In Love Again” (1937) and “It Never Entered My Mind” (1940). Given Sergeant’s background in theater, such selections seem natural. But the program also includes dramatically fresh arrangements of three hits that were in heavy rotation on MTV in the early ’80s. Sergeant gracefully strides into the cabaret realm with “Everybody Wants To Rule The World.” She injects some wordless scatting into the Tears For Fears hit, luxuriates in elongated vowel sounds and intertwines her punchy delivery with David Budway’s intricate piano work. The Police hit “Every Breath You Take” has been reworked before—including a 2001 live version by Sting himself, featuring bassist Christian McBride and trumpeter Chris Botti—but here, Sergeant and Budway make it swing like a gate. Budway, who served as musical director for this album, relishes in shifting a song’s tempo in order to create surprises. The other musicians on the disc, bassist Chris Berger and drummer Vince Ector, are essential to the success of the most creative interpretation here: an engaging, slightly bizarre version of Modern English’s “I Melt With You.” The musicians transform it into a jazz tune, with jolts of arco riffs and diverse trap-set work that illustrates the drummer’s range. But this arrangement also includes a section that veers into performance-art territory, featuring a spoken-word interlude peppered with potent alliteration. Sergeant puts her theatricality to superb use throughout the program, but does so with enhanced flair on this track. Inside Out is a solid debut from a classically trained vocalist whose journey into the jazz realm has already yielded gems; we hope to hear more in the future.