It is unfair to dub a talent as singular as Allegra Levy the “next” anyone. Still, listening to Levy’s exceptional new album—confirming the intense promise of her previous release, 2015’s Lonely City—it’s hard not to be reminded of Stacey Kent: same bell-like clarity, same emotional honesty, same light yet dexterous touch. Levy continues to build her sublime rapport with pianist Carmen Staaf, here joined by cornetist Kirk Knuffke, saxophonist Stephen Riley, bassist Jay Anderson and drummer Billy Drummond.
Levy opens with one of 10 originals, “Cherry Blossom Song,” likening the springtime bud to the early flowering of intellectual and emotional curiosity. Likewise, her reworking of Duke Jordan’s “Lullaby of the Orient” celebrates youthful wanderlust and romantic yearning, inspired by her yearlong residency as the featured vocalist at the Hong Kong Four Seasons Hotel. Later she adds an intriguing counterpoint with the album’s sole cover, the backwards-glancing “Yesterdays.” Two tracks, “Misery Makes the Music” and “Sleepwalk With Me (In Sek Tong Tsui),” delve into her songwriting, both examining love’s effect on the creative process. “Dear Friend” is a tender missive detailing true friendship’s pricelessness, while her exuberant take of Dexter Gordon’s “Soy Califa” celebrates vibrant new romance. (Conversely, her smoky “I Shouldn’t Tell You” skilfully rides the seesaw of romantic uncertainty.) To close, Levy returns to Hong Kong with the title track and its gentle ruminations on an extended absence from home.