JazzReview: I Think It’s Going To Rain Today
www.jazzreview.com – reviewed by Don Williamson
Review: Curtis Stigers has established himself as one of the important artists on the Concord Records label, as he continues to release new CD’s and tour and write his own music. The arrangement appears to suit both parties exceedingly well. For Concord has a reliable singer who, like the others that it has signed, staddles the fence between jazz and popular appeal. Maybe it’s just that the definition of jazz is changing–or expanding. In addition, Stigers is allowed to grow, singing the music he chooses uncategorically as it suits his personality, rather than being molded into the style of music that an A&R manager would expect to be commercially successful.
Stigers’ first recording for Concord, Baby Plays Around, consisted mostly of standards from the Great American Songbook, like “All The Thing You Are,” and jazz standards like “Centerpiece.” However, with that first Concord recording, Stigers already set up the style for CD’s to follow, especially due to the fact that he started working with keyboardist Larry Goldings. Their collaboration led to three more CD’s, even though the sidemen evolved to the present configuration with musicians like Matt Wilson and Ben Allison from the Jazz Composers Collective. Increasingly, Stigers has grown to embrace an unpredictable assortment of songs that suit his personality, rather than fit into a mold. Particularly with his last CD, You Inspire Me, Stigers started to incorporate music that inspired him, such as country songs like “Crazy Moon” or pop music from The Beatles or Billy Joel. Another one of the constants through Stigers’ series of Concord albums has been his bringing to light some of Randy Newman’s under-appreciated songs like the beautiful “Marie” or “It’s So Hard Living Without You.”
All of those elements mesh on I Think It’s Going To Rain Today, on which Stigers, now in his stride, has collected, and composed, a series of songs that appeal to him, and by extension, to his listeners too. So, now the title song of Stigers’ CD is a Newman song this time, and surprisingly to those who associate Newman forever with his most popular song, “Short People,” the song is sensitive and even poetic to a degree that inspires a poignant arrangement consisting of Goldings on piano backing up Stigers’ word about “human kindness overflowing” and “skies streaked with gray.” In contrast, though, Stigers and Goldings rearrange Mose Allison’s classic “Everybody Cryin’ Mercy,” written during the Vietnam War, but topical once again now that the U.S. is involved in another war as the lyrics recall a “bad news situation, sure ’nuff getting worse.” And Stigers’ appreciation of perfectly expressed country/Western music appears in the form of Willie Nelson’s “Crazy,” given flavor by Pete McCann’s languorous guitar lines. Even when Stigers sings a standard on I Think It’s Going To Rain Today, it’s yet another song deserving a reconsideration, Cy Coleman’s “It Amazes Me,” popularized by Blossom Dearie more than forty years ago. Not only does Stigers’ delivery bring out the self-deprecating humor of the song, but also one can imagine Dearie once again provoking a smile with: “My height…/Just average./My weight…/Just average./My my IQ is/As you estimate/Just average./But evidently, she does not agree./Consequently, if I seem at sea./It amazes me/It simply amazes me/What she sees in me/Dazzles me/Dazes me.”
And one notices the growth in Stigers’ songwriting depth from “Swingin’ Down At 10th & Main” to “Lullaby On The Hudson,” to which Stigers supplied the words to the melody that Goldings wrote. Recalling his first night with his just-born daughter, Stigers sings of “seeing the future in her eyes” and the fact that “I’ll remember this forever.” This heartfelt personal quality of the CD distinguishes it from Stigers’ earlier recordings, both on his own compositions, and in his choices of others’ songs. What we’re seeing is a path that Stigers is taking to a thematic and musical destination that even he may not foresee yet as his music adapts to the changing circumstances of his life.