Curtis Stigers at Pizza Express Jazz Club
London Times – Clive Davis
(4 out of 5 stars)
NEARLY 30 years ago (yes, it is almost that long) the Police began smuggling reggae into the charts with I Can’t Stand Losing You. Curtis Stigers, who has embarked on a lengthy run in Soho, takes the same song and turns it into a jazz number without sacrificing any of its vitality. Only the most assured singers could make that transition.
Slowly but surely, the American singer is beginning to receive the attention he deserves. Old habits die hard, and an awful lot of people still tend to think of him as the shaggy-haired purveyor of platinum-selling blue-eyed soul. That was another era, another universe. The modern-day Stigers is sharper and leaner and bears more than a passing resemblance to Morrissey, while his music has evolved on to another plane altogether.
I cannot think of another vocalist who creates such an exuberant combination of bebop artistry and raw emotion. Chicago’s poet-in-residence, Kurt Elling, has more cachet among purists, perhaps, but he lacks the range and extrovert charm. Stigers, on the other hand, has the potential and charisma to become, well, the thinking person’s Michael Buble.
A fair segment of his audience still expects him to sing the old hits, and he duly obliges with I Wonder Why and You’re All That Matters To Me. Otherwise this was another of his uncompromisingly robust straight-ahead sets, with the pianist Matthew Fries, drummer Keith Hall and bassist Phil Palombi supplying immaculate accompaniment. The trio are as smooth and sleek as you could ask, but when grit and grease and a little R&B are required, the musicians are never at a loss. Stigers also adds some suitably punchy saxophone solos.
The programme hurtled in all directions. Willie Dixon’s My Babe shuffled and danced; Arthur Crudup’s That’s All Right sneaked in a few Elvis-isms. The lovelorn Elvis Costello-Cait O’Riordan ballad, Baby Plays Around, has been a fixture in his repertoire for some years now, and shows no signs of losing its edge. Even so, it was overshadowed by the delicate, moonstruck emotions of Columbus Avenue, one of the original tunes on the new album, I Think it’s Going to Rain Today. Stigers wears his heart on his sleeve without slipping into sentimentality.
Crazy supplied a winning detour into country and western nostalgia. Mose Allison’s Everybody Cryin’ Mercy, written in the Vietnam era, remains as urgent and compelling as ever. Something for everyone, in other words.