Rock and Jazz Intertwine in a Hot-and-Cool Concert
POSTED: January 17, 2003

Stephen Holden, The New York Times

“Rock ‘n’ roll and jazz share so many of the same artistic bloodlines that it’s remarkable the two don’t fuse more often into the kind of inspired marriage of visceral clout and intellectual savvy conjured by the singer, songwriter and saxophonist Curtis Stigers.

Vocally, Mr. Stigers, who is appearing at the Oak Room of the Algonquin Hotel (59 West 44th Street) through Feb. 8, suggests an emotionally chafed hybrid of Elvis Costello and the bebopper Mark Murphy. If his voice is heftier and his phrasing more fluent than Mr. Costello’s, it has the same acidic quiver.

Mr. Stigers also likes to weave Murphyesque scat solos into his performances, but he never carries them to the fantastic outer reaches of expression visited by his prototype. While his backup trio — the pianist Matthew Fries, the bassist Gregory Ryan and the drummer Keith Hall —play muscular straight-ahead jazz, his own tenor saxophone solos spice up the arrangements with a raw rock ‘n’ roll honk.

A native of Boise, Idaho, who bears a striking physical resemblance to the actor Bill Pullman, Mr. Stigers achieved prominence more than a decade ago when he was marketed by Arista Records as a jazzier Billy Joel. Since then he has developed a leaner, edgier style, moved to Concord Records and established a reputation as a connoisseur of songs.

The catholicity of his taste and the refinement of his ear were evident at Tuesday’s opening-night show, which segued from a jumping “You’re Driving Me Crazy” into a hard-swinging “Centerpiece,” then into a hypnotic, tortured rendition of Mr. Costello’s “Baby Plays Around.” On the rockier side of the fence was a hot, punchy rendition of the country-rocker Steve Earle’s “Hometown Blues.” Randy Newman’s bleak “Living With You” made an offbeat but affecting choice as a stunned personal response to 9/11. In almost every instance, Mr. Stigers made a compelling case for the song as a candidate for inclusion in an expanding canon of popular standards.”

– Stephen Holden